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MARCH 1994 

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MARCH 1994 








First Word 

By Randall Baker 




By Linda Marsa 



By Wayne Yacco 

Idol Innovations 


Omni Online 

By Byron Poole 



By Kathleen McAuliffe 



By Carl Posey 



By Frederic Paul 



By Mary Ann Tawasha 


Electronic Universe 

By Gregg Keizer 



By Patrick Huyghe < 

Monster rodent 



By Nina L. Diamond 



By Scot Morris 

Fooling with Mother Nature may not be nice; neverthe- 
less, the horizon harbors some defense 
against her nasty side. Join us in the age-old battle 
between humans and their environment. 
(Cover art by Jim Zuckerman; additional credits, page 84) 




Reaping the Whirlwind 

By Carl Posey 
The potential increase of 

severe hurricanes 
in the coming years sparks 

the human drive 
to tame the environment. 


Electric Sky 

By Richard Wolkomir 

Lightning, the 

world's most spectacular 

fireworks, is a 
source of awe and fear— 

and the center of 

some intensive research. 


Kite Power 

By Valerie Govig 

Whether on 

skis, skates, or in a buggy, 

kites are 

taking enthusiasts to 

new heights. 



A Wheel in the Desert, 

The Moon 

on Some Swings 

By Jonathan Carroll 



By Dava Sobel 

Clocking the Big Bang 

: V" 


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As the world reorganize: 

By Randall Baker 

one continent gets left behind 

in Uganda and 
author of 
in the Tropics: 
An Historical 
Perspective, Ran- 
dall Baker 
is a professor at 
University's School 
of Public and 


■ ou may be forgiven for 
%h^P thinking that Africa is the 
ultimate hopeless place. 
Indeed, there is a strong possi- 
bility that the West is in the proc- 
ess of writing off Africa. 

Early visitors were impressed 
by what they saw in Africa: a uni- 
versity in Timbuktu, the art of Be- 
nin, the emporiums of the Sahara, 
the castles of Gon- 
dar. ... But 250 
years of slavery de- 
molished the social 
order that is a pre- 
condition for art, 
trade (other than 
slavery), and agricul- 
ture to flourish. At 
the end of this pe- 
riod, when Europe 
no longer needed 
slaves but feared 
growing imperial 
competition among 
the emergent Euro- 
pean nation states, 
Africa was rapidly, thoroughly, 
and grotesquely "enclosed," suf- 
fering the earlier fate of the com- 
mon lands of Europe. 

Thus, the chaos induced by 
the slave trade was somehow 
transformed into an excuse for 
"salvation and modernization." 

In short order, Europe estab- 
lished meaningless "states" 
bonded by a foreign language, 
completely distorted agriculture 
in favor of luxury export crops, 
displaced indigenous religions, 
poured contempt on ethno- 
science, and forbade any form of 
political expression. In these cir- 
cumstances, is it surprising that 
Africa is seen as hopeless, stag- 
nant, or regressing? 

There is now a pervasive 
sense of hopelessness about Af- 
rica. It supplies about 4 percent 
of world trade; it has scarcely ben- 
efited from the Green Revolution 
that ignored Africa's basic staple, 
millet; it has at least 6 million peo- 

ple who are infected with the 
AIDS virus; it has received billions 
of aid dollars with dismally poor 

results; it is an environmental 
mess; and it is heavily in debt. As 

the continent finally made the 
concessions to democracy de- 
manded by the West, the West's 

interests shifted dramatically to 
Eastern Europe's democratiza- 
tion instead. 

But, the picture 
seems set to get 
even worse, Europe, 
traditional patron of 
Africa, is currently 
preoccupied with 
Russia and Eastern 
Europe, and Germa- 
ny with the poor 
relative it recently 
adopted. The Unit- 
ed States may be 
repositioning to- 
ward Latin America 
and Asia. In addi- 
tion, the spread of 
fundamentalist Islam and the 
hardening attitude of Europe to 
North African immigrants may 
well place a wall of hostile states 
between Europe and Black 
Africa, effectively isolating the 
latter. With the end of the bi- 
polar global power struggle, Af- 
rica has little or no strategic im- 
portance that could draw atten- 
tion to itself. 

While this all looks rather hope- 
less, an answer may come only 
from a radical response to this trau- 
matic situation. First, the conti- 
nent has to be won back from its 
dysfunctional history. In the late 
1950s, Ghana's Nkrumah called 
for Pan-Africanism to unify Africa, 
give it a significant voice in the 
world, overcome its Balkanized 
and culturally absurd political di- 
visions, and lend some econom- 
ic clout through larger, more 
open markets. He was put out of 
business with the aid of the 
West. Instead, the Organization 

of African Unity (OAU) declared 
the colonial boundaries to be sac- 
rosanct. The new states then 
went in for a curious, and spu- 
rious, exercise known as "nation 
building." Why any African in vir- 
tually any of the new states 
should feel any allegiance to the 
boundaries imposed in Berlin is 
unfathomable. The traditional and 
historical identity— with the tribe 
or clan — is unmentionable since 
it is an heretical affront to "nation 
building." But those social here- 
sies are the only truly indigenous 
things Africans have left. 

Perhaps what is needed is 
something akin to the nonthreat- 
ening superstructure of the Euro- 
pean Community to take the 
heat off the phony "nation state" 
without eliminating it overnight. It 
could allow intra- and interstate re- 
gions to flourish as they are now 
doing in the EC. Economic secu- 
rity and growth may help counter 
Africa's demographic explosion. 
This may seem like romantic non- 
sense indeed, but that would 
have been the reaction of the es- 
tablishment to a 1950s sugges- 
tion by Jean Monnet, French 
statesman and father of the Eu- 
ropean Community, that an eco- 
nomically united Germany and 
France share a common vision, 
common institutions, and open 
borders. The European Commu- 
nity broke an historical mold. 

So why not an African Commu- 
nity? After all, everything else 
seems to have been tried, and out- 
side one or two bright stars 
(Botswana with its tribal/state co- 
incidence), nothing seems to 
have worked. The independence 
of Eritrea, and maybe that of 
Somaliland, illustrates that Africa 
has crossed the Rubicon of the 
OALTs sanctification of colonial 
boundaries. With the European un- 
ion and NAFTA now realities, may- 
be Africa now needs to revisit 
Pan-Africanism. DO 

... " strer . 


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Visions of a collective consciousness, online government, 

and the impending energy crisis 

Collective Beast 

"Souls in Silicon" by Frederik Pohl and 
Hans Moravec [November 1993] was 
very interesting. However, what I find 
more interesting is what happens after 
we interface the human mind with com- 
puters. Such a person will not only 
have greatly enhanced personal abili- 
ties, but carried a step further, that in- 
dividual could communicate on such a 
level and speed with other people — 
people also interfaced with computers — 
that they could create a single aware- 
ness that would be far greater than the 
sum of its parts, just as we humans 
have a single awareness now that is 
made up of all of our single cells. 

James C. Burris 
El Paso, TX 

Checks and Balances 

In response to December's Political Sci- 
ence column, I must say that long be- 
fore the predicted December 1, 1999, 
dateline for the dissolution of the fed- 
eral government, our telecommunica- 
tions networking and computer technol- 
ogy and software will have advanced 
to a point at which an online computer 
model of the federal government's to- 
tal economical workings will be acces- 
sible over the phone lines to anybody 
with a modem. The biggest complaint 
about having a central American gov- 
ernment is that it allows unbelievable 
waste and abuses of the budget. But 
with the online model available to virtu- 
ally anybody, everyone can see if the 
emperor has no clothes and then 
dead stop the waste and misallocation 
of tax money quickly. 

Bob Schreib, Jr. 
Toms River, NJ 

Energy Equation 

Before we jump back on the nuclear 
bandwagon [First Word, December 
1993], a fundamental question needs 
to be answered: Are nuclear-power 
plants actually net producers of ener- 
gy? That is, when you add up the en- 
ergy necessary to mine and process fu- 
el, build the plant, operate the plant, dis- 
pose of the waste, and so on, it is quite 

likely to come out to be more energy 
than the plant produces in its lifetime. 
What has made the nuclear industry eco- 
nomically viable in this country is huge 
government subsidies. If they had to 
make it on their own on the basis of net 
energy produced, like renewable-ener- 
gy industries, they would probably 
waste away. 

Dr. Ralph G. Beil 
Marshall, TX 

Any nuclear-fission reactor built will, 
over several decades, eventually be- 
come too radioactive or too unreliable 
to operate safely. The only future for all 
nuclear-power plants is on-site entomb- 
ment. The world's most famous en- 
tombed reactor at Chernobyl sets a hor- 
rifying precedent. Its "coffin" is already 
falling apart and leaking, and it's been 
barely a decade. 

Christopher Magee, Jr. 
Los Angeles, CA 
AOL: ChrisMagee 

Nuclear power is indeed one of the 
most environmentally benign sources of 
energy. Reynolds is correct in that we 
have an electricity-hungry world. The De- 
partment of Energy estimates that by 
the year 2010, this nation alone will 
need the equivalent of 130 more large 
nuclear-power plants. Efficiency improve- 
ments come first, but they will be insuf- 
ficient, and thus we must move ahead 
to provide energy facilities that will 
take us into the next century. 

Theodore M. Besmann, Ph.D. 

Research Group Leader, 

Oak Ridge National Laboratory 

Oak Ridge, TNDO 

Got something to say but no time to 
write? Call (900) 285-5483. Your 

comments will be recorded and may 
appear in an upcoming issue of 
Omni. The cost for the call is 95 
cents per minute. You must be age 
18 or older. Touch-tone phones on- 
ly. Sponsored by Pure Entertain- 
ment, P.O. Box 166, Hollywood, 
California 90078. 


Audit proofing your 1993 return 

By Linda Marsa 

The good news: 
The IRS is so 
understaffed that 
it audits less 
than 1 percent of 
individual tax- 
payers. The not-so- 
good news: The 
number of returns 
audited jumps 
dramatically for 
those earning 
more than $100,000. 

ometime this year, an 
i estimated 1 million Ameri- 
' cans will receive that 
dreaded letter from Uncle Sam in- 
forming them that their tax return 
is being audited — an experience 
one taxpayer likened to getting a 
heart attack in the mail. But 
there's plenty taxpayers can do 
to control the damage and avoid 
many headaches. 

What prompts the IRS 
computer to spew out your 
income tax return for a clos- 
er look are too many incon- 
sistencies in your state- 
ment. Most returns are se- 
lected for an audit based 
on the IRS's Discriminant 
Function System (DIF), 
which assigns a numerical 
score to key items on your 
return, like adjustments to 
income, exemptions, and 
deductions, all based upon 
national norms. 

What raises red flags 
are, say, medical costs 
that exceed the standard 
averages or business ex- 
penses that are so high it 
doesn't leave you with 
enough money to live on. 
The higher the score, the 
more likely your return will 
be pulled. The parameters of the 
DIF formula are a more closely 
guarded secret than the plans for 
Star Wars, but you can get some 
idea of what the averages are for 
people in your income bracket by 
consulting the U.S. Master Tax 
Guide, available at most libraries. 

The IRS also routinely targets 
a number of items for scrutiny. 
This year, the rules are much stiff- 
er for deductions for home offic- 
es — once a nifty way of writing off 
your den — and for claiming 
costs for your computer; now it 
must be required by your employ- 
er and used at least half the time 
for business. Your kids can't be 
playing Nintendo on it 24 hours 

a day. Uncle Sam also casts a du- 
bious eye on borderline business 
expenses, such as deducting trav- 
el costs to a friend's out-of-town 
wedding because you button- 
holed everyone at the affair 
about your widgets. And Con- 
gress is closing the loopholes 
that allowed chiselers and down- 
right cheats to squeeze through 
the cracks in the system and 

avoid reporting more than $100 
billion a year in income. 

"The IRS looks for at least 
three good audit issues. Other- 
wise, it's a waste of their hour," 
says Mary L. Sprouse, author of 
How to Survive a Tax Audit. "So 
if you exceed the DIF in five are- 
as, then it would be worth calling 
you in." Sprouse, a Los Angeles 
tax attorney and former Internal 
Revenue Service audit manager 
who has worked both sides of the 
fence, believes the best defen- 
sive maneuver is to keep good rec- 
ords so you can justify expendi- 
tures. "An audit is solely about 
proof," says Sprouse. "If you can- 
not prove an expense, then 

you're not really entitled to it." 

If you do get called in, don't 
panic. Although tax and penalties 
on audited returns averaged 
$5,812 in 1992, 16 percent of 
taxpayers emerged from these or- 
deals unscathed. So find out in ad- 
vance what items are being ques- 
tioned so you can narrow the 
scope of their search. When you 
go to the IRS office, bring records 
for those areas only. That 
way the agent won't be 
tempted to go on a "fishing 
expedition." Or you can 
send your tax preparer 
down to the IRS office to 
plead your case. 

"If you have all your rec- 
ords, there's no reason why 
you shouldn't go by your- 
self," advises Sprouse. 
"But if you fudged and 
didn't document, or if 
there is a tricky item on 
your return you simply 
don't understand, then you 
need an advocate." And 
even if you do represent 
yourself and end up botch- 
ing everything, you can sus- 
pend the interview at any 
time and send in a pro to 
straighten out the mess. 
There is, however, one 
type of audit that's impossible to 
safeguard against — the Taxpay- 
er Compliance Measurement Pro- 
gram (TCMP), better known as 
God's Nightmare. Every three 
years, about 50,000 unlucky tax- 
payers are randomly selected to 
participate in this program, 
which is designed to collect da- 
ta to establish the DIF bench- 
marks for normal patterns of in- 
come, expenditures, and deduc- 
tions. If you're chosen for a TCMP 
audit, be prepared to justify eve- 
ry single item on your return and 
just look upon it as penance for 
all the crimes you've committed — 
or even thought about commit- 
ting—in this lifetime. DO 


Don't call it cyberpunk rock; video fusion may be an evolutionary step 

By Wayne Yacco 

Billy Idol 

along with Brett 


and Digital Media 

: ■. ! .. ■ . 

create improvisa- 

ational jazz 

for the eyes, 

as musical 

collage attempts 

to mirror 


Ready for swarm cams 
and fusion stations? Jay 
Leno took to them in a To- 
night Show minute when they 
were introduced by Billy Idol on 
a small-screen appearance last 
year. In fact, Leno temporarily be- 
came an interactive-video artist 
along with Idol, director Brett Leo- 
nard, and members of the San 
Francisco-based Digital Media Re- 
ality Lab. The team "flew" (their 
term) a new cybernetic instru- 
ment for the first time on national 
television that night. First-time 
swarm pilot Leno even impro- 
vised by scanning himself into 
Idol's gigantic wall of video as the 
rocker played "White Wedding." 
The complex instrument sprawl- 
ing across Leno's stage that 
night saw its genesis at the Mi- 
crografx Chili Cook-off during the 
1992 Fall Comdex computer 
show in Las Vegas. It's also 
been flown at the Verbum Digital 
Be-in during Winter MacWorld 
and at several rave clubs, all in 
San Francisco. Its components: 
a fusion station, swarm cams, 
and a matrix of monitors. 

The fusion station itself con- 
sists of a large array of computer 

! ' , 

J?* 1 


:/ 4,1 


image processors, from a fully 
tricked-out $10,000 Amiga 4000- 
based Video Toaster to a Silicon 
Graphics workstation like those 
Leonard used to render images 
for his movie Lawnmower Man. 

Video fusion interactively com- 
bines live images captured by fly- 
ing swarm cams with video clips, 
generation of realtime computer 
graphics, and previously ren- 
dered objects. They are multi- 
plied in various mandalaic forms 
and modified with digital effects 
such as trails, color shifts, digital 
delays, and other elements. On 
the Tonight Show, Digital Media 
founder Dan Mapes mixed a 
wide variety of elements at a pi- 
ano-style keyboard — connected 
to the system through MIDI— very 
much in the way sound samples 
are played on a synthesizer. 
"You've got digital video and 
graphics, either on hard disk or 
in RAM, that you can trigger rap- 
idly with a keyboard and bring vi- 
sual icons and symbols in that 
match the feeling or the sound of 
the music or the content of the lyr- 
ics," he explains. 

Today, this live, interactive, dig- 
ital-video art is displayed and per- 
formed like a combination of psy- 
chedelic light show and modern 
dance— on stage and in a pixel 
space. In the future, it will be per- 
formed in the voxel space of vir- 
tual reality You will even be able 
to create it on a machine small 
enough to fit on your desktop. 
The systems used on the August 
12 broadcast of the Tonight 
Show, however, filled a stage and 
cost well over $100,000. 

As the input to this system, the 
Sharp LCD swarm cams are al- 
most a byproduct, but their oper- 
ators add an eerie dreamlike 
dance element, orbiting the ob- 
ject of their focus with the move- 
ments of a digitally inspired Isa- 
dora Duncan. The term "swarm 
cam" is derived from, and aptly 

invokes images of, cameras 
swarming like bees. It was 
coined at Digital Media to de- 
scribe the use of large numbers 
of prosumer video cameras con- 
nected to the fusion station. 
"Three is the smallest swarm cam 
you can have," says Leonard, 
who directed the swarm cams and 
choreographed them with the NBC 
studio cameras. "There should be 
at least ten — fourteen for a full- 
blown stage," he suggests. 

"This whole thing is a cybernet- 
ic art machine/' says Mapes, 
"Just like an airplane takes a 
crew to fly it, this thing takes a 
crew." That's Idol's view, too. "I 
see it as something that illumi- 
nates what my music's all 
about," he says "And, in fact, it 
allows me to put a lot of my daily 
life into the fusion, as I'm one of 
the swarm-cam team as well." 
Mapes claims that "old art is 
aimed mostly at people's egos. 
For those of us who come out of 
the digital culture, this is more 
like a live flow. It's the first art 
form that really mirrors a deeper 
level of consciousness." 

Leonard, who also recently 
directed Idol's metamorphic 
"Shock to the System" video as 
well as Peter Gabriel's no less 
transformational "Kiss That 
Frog" video and simulation-ride 
film, calls the cybernetic art ma- 
chine "a fusion of different peo- 
ple from different disciplines 
with the medium itself and the 
tools." It's not just a gimmick. 
"This whole thing comes out of Bil- 
ly playing with the concepts that 
philosophically were in link with 
the concepts that a group of us 
were playing with: namely, this 
swarm-cam-fusion thing, which is 
an amalgam of many different sen- 
sibilities. The fusion is complete- 
ly symmetrical and reflected 
throughout the entire structure of 
the piece." The Idol crew already 
likens it to a group mind. DO 

onnrui oruuruE 


The results of Omni Online's interactive surveys 

By Byron Poole 

• ver been pried from the 
i dinner table and onto the 
i telephone to respond to 
a questionnaire — or a marketing 
scheme disguised as one? You 
probably know something about 
how presumptuous, leading, and 
obtuse such "surveys" can be. A 
recent cartoon comes to mind, in 
which a man with a phone held 

Omul's biweekly out in one hand says to his wife, 
electronic "It's a pollster, honey. Do we feel 

survey takes the A) substantially, B) overwhelming- 
interviewer- ly, or C) totally betrayed by the 

interviewee rela- president?" Slanted and inconsis- 
tionship a tent questioning leaves one wary 

step further and of poll results and the interviewer 
comes up at the other end of the line. 

With some curl- What's needed, perhaps, is to 

OUS results, open up the lines of communica- 
tion a little more. The beauty of in- 
teractive media is its potential to 
do just that. When you click on 
Communications on the Omni On- 
line opening screen, you can ac- 
cess, among other things, Omni's 
readers' survey. "Your Two 
Cents' Worth" is our way of get- 
ting your feedback on articles 
that run in Omni and of measur- 
ing your perspective on current 
social issues. 

After the first survey was post- 
ed, we readily took advantage of 
Omni Online's electronic nature, 
inviting comment as well as sur- 
vey responses. Our online read- 
ers added a new dimension to 
the traditional questionnaire: 
They sent E-mail informing us of 
what, exactly, they would change 
about the survey. 

We listened and did some tink- 
ering to make our survey more in- 
formative. And once again, our 
readers spoke out, telling us 
they appreciated the improve- 
ments. Impressed by the willing- 
ness of our readers to voice their 
concerns, we decided to take the 
interviewer-interviewee dialogue 
of the survey a step further. The 
biweekly survey now has its own 
folder on the This Month in Omni 

message board, in which the re- 
sults are posted and readers can 
discuss both the questions them- 
selves and the issuesiraised. 

Our Science and the Soul is- 
sue (October 1993) certainly in- 
spired a deluge of reader mail. 
From fundamentalist to atheist, 
voices wanted to be heard. 

"Are the mind and body sepa- 
rate things?" resulted in; an exact- 
ly 50-50 yes/no ratio— the only 
time such a perfect split has oc- 
curred for us. From here, we want- 
ed to know if, in your opinion, sci- 
ence would ever be able to offer 
an "explanation" of conscious- 
ness. Of the respondents, 61.4 
percent believed that/indeed, sci- 
ence would one day get it figured 
out. A slighter majority, 56.8 per- 
cent, think a computer will one 
day develop consciousness. (We 
got such a stir of letters, both elec- 
tronic and on paper; from this 
question, that we explored it even 
further in the "Souls in Silicon" sur- 
vey the following month.) Finally, 
a whopping 84.1 percent said 
they suspect that humans are not 
the only animal in possession of 

"Finding God in the Three- 

Pound Universe," also from our 
fifteenth-anniversary edition, 
raised the delicate issues of reli- 
gious ecstasy and psychedelic 
drugs. First off, we asked where 
you believe the gateway to the 
transcendental experience origi- 
nates. The majority of you, 64.9 
percent, responded that the 
brain, rather than the soul, is the 
gateway. Next, we wanted to 
know if a drug-induced transcen- 
dental experience should be con- 
sidered a valid religious experi- 
ence. The nays took that one by 
a small majority, although a siza- 
ble majority believes the govern- 
ment should help fund research 
on potentially therapeutic hallucin- 
ogenic drugs. 

A steady stream of survey ques- 
tions and results have followed 
with equally brow-raising out- 
comes. Janet Stites's "Border- 
crossings: A Conversation in Cy- 
berspace" (November 1993) kin- 
dled the debate on the divide in 
Western culture between science 
and the arts. Also from the Novem- 
ber issue were questions raised 
by Pohl and Moravec in "Souls in 
Silicon," such as if transferring 
the human mind to a computer 
represents the next step in hu- 
man evolution. And the Decem- 
ber issue offered a ripe selection 
of material, from the ominous po- 
tential of special effects to the pre- 
dictability of the future. (If the fu- 
ture could be accurately predict- 
ed, 59.4 percent believe it could 
still be changed.) 

We like to think of the results 
from these surveys as catalysts 
for further probing rather than as 
ends in themselves. How is it, for 
example, that 49 percent of the 
people polled think they would be 
able to experience emotions if 
their personalities were trans- 
ferred to a computer, but then on- 
ly 39 percent would still consider 
themselves human? Questions, 
questions. DO 



Abnormal fingerprints may point to origins of mental disease 

By Kathleen McAuliffe 

f^ f% ichael Lee first saw 
I the signs of schizo- 
I %& I phrenia in his identical 
twin in their late teens. Out of the 
blue, Malcolm began hallucinat- 
ing that he was Prince Charles, 
even accusing their mother of kid- 
napping him at birth from Queen 
Elizabeth. The diagnosis of Mal- 
colm's condition brought further 
havoc to the family. Fearing the 
disease might be hereditary, Mi- 
chael was tormented by the pos- 
sibility that he would follow his 
twin's descent into madness. His 
mother had it even worse. "Not on- 
ly did Malcolm walk around glar- 
ing at her malevolently." says Mi- 
chael, now 31 , "but the psychia- 
trist blamed her for his sickness." 

Bad genes, bad parenting : 
and other theories have been put 
forward to explain the baffling 
symptoms of schizophrenia, a dis- 
order debilitating some 2 million 
people in the United States alone. 
And for every schizophrenic, 
there is a confused and devastat- 
ed family. But the Lee twins 
have provided an invaluable 
clue to solving schizophrenia's 
mystery. As participants in a 
study by Stefan Bracha, a child/ 
adolescent psychiatrist and re- 
searcher at the University of Ar- 
kansas Medical School, they 
have helped shed light on the or- 
igins and possible prevention of 
the disease. What's more, the find- 
ings from the investigation of 
twins hold promise of increased 
understanding of other perplex- 
ing neurological syndromes. 

Recently, many experts have fa- 
vored a hereditary explanation of 
schizophrenia, citing studies show- 
ing that if an identical twin has the 
disease, the other has a 50 per- 
cent chance of being afflicted. 
But as Malcolm and Michael's 
case illustrates, environmental fac- 
tors play a role, too. But which 
ones? If Bracha is right, the insti- 
gating factor is not uncaring, ma- 

nipulative parents, or other fami- 
ly trauma. Rather, the chief sus- 
pects are prenatal insults — such 
as viral infections— that may dam- 
age the fetal brain, setting the 
stage for the development of schiz- 
ophrenia later in life. 

Bracha uncovered key evi- 
dence for his theory using a stand- 
ard tool of police detective work — 
the fingerprint kit. Although icon- 
oclastic for medicine, his ap- 
proach has a rationale. Fingers, 
he explains, form in the fetus just 
as the cerebral cortex is under- 
going peak development in the 
second trimester. Any agent harm- 
ing the fetus at that stage, Bra- 
cha reasons, would also leave its 
damaging mark on the fingers. To 
test his hypothesis, he turned to 
identical twins in which one of the 
pair was healthy and the other 
sick. In addition to the Lee twins, 
22 similar pairs volunteered for 
the study. Sure enough, one- 
third of these twins were found to 
have fewer ridges in their finger- 
prints and smaller than normal fin- 
ger tips. Moreover, these subtle 
defects only occurred in the schiz- 
ophrenic, never in the healthy 
twin. "The correlation between 
schizophrenic and abnormal fin- 
gers was highly significant," Bra- 
cha reports. "That's very sugges- 
tive of a second-trimester insult." 

Further bolstering his theory, 
he notes that several Scandinavi- 
an studies have linked a particu- 
larly virulent strain of influenza A 
with schizophrenia in the off- 
spring of mothers who contract- 
ed it during the second trimester. 
Damage to the fetal brain, Bracha 
thinks, might also stem from fetal 
exposure to alcohol or drugs, ane- 
mia in the mother, or from a twist- 
ed umbilical cord that reduces ox- 
ygen flow to one twin. 

To E. Fuller Torrey, senior psy- 
chiatrist at St. Elizabeth's Hospi- 
tal in Washington, DC, Bracha's 
theory makes sense. Many stud- 

ies have shown that schizophren- 
ics are statistically more likely to 
be born in the spring or late 
winter, Torrey observes. ''That 
kind of seasonality implies some- 
thing might be happening before 
or around birth." Torrey himself 
has long suspected a virus 
might be involved. "By drawing 
our attention to the in utero peri- 
od," he adds, "Stefan Bracha de- 
serves a lot of credit." 

Bracha would like to see the 
government- invest in more pro- 
grams aimed at providing prena- 

"II we Gould get 
women treated 
for anemia, 
drug abuse, and 
other risk 
factors," psychiatrist 

tal care. Meanwhile, he is broad- 
ening his study to include chil- 
dren suffering from dyslexia and 
hyperactivity. Once again, he 
will compare the finger morphol- 
ogy of healthy and afflicted twins 
to see if prenatal insults might be 
contributing factors to these neu- 
robiological disturbances. A bet- 
ter understanding of how these 
disorders arise will not necessar- 
ily translate into improved treat- 
ments. But to Michael Lee, that in 
no way diminishes the import- 
ance of Bracha's inquiry. "Wheth- 
er he finds a cure or not," Lee 
points out, "we're all better off if 
society becomes more knowledge- 
able about the underlying 
causes of these conditions. You 
can deal with them much more 
rationally." Dd 

Stefan Bracha 
says, "it 

might be possible 
to prevent 
in some 
Ghildren at risk," 



Scenario for seeding an imaginary storm 

By Carl Posey 

i he most promising ap- 
proach to altering hurri- 
canes now, as a gener- 
ation ago, lies in turning the hur- 
ricane's own power against itself. 
The objective would almost cer- 
tainly be to intercede — perhaps 
through cloud seeding— in the nat- 
ural processes that cause the eye 
to expand and contract and to re- 
form at greater distances from the 
center. Here, drawn from conver- 

1,000 and 10,000 feet, before, dur- 
ing, and after seeding. 

The four seeder aircraft— 
Gulfstream IV jets— carry radar 
and lidar equipment and cloud 
physics instrumentation similar to 
that on the Orions, permitting 
them to pinpoint the powerful up- 
drafts hidden in the eye wall and 
primary rainband— updrafts with 
an abundance of supercooled wa- 
ter the scientists hope can pump 


Andrew pounded 
Florida with 
mighty winds, slack- 
ing up yachts 
and pleasure boats 
(ahove); Hugo 
hit Saint Croix in 
1989 (right). 

sations with hurricane veterans, 
is the way such an experiment 
might unfold. 

Reaching maturity about 900 
nautical miles west of Puerto Ri- 
co, the storm is predicted to re- 
main at sea for at least 24 hours. 
Hurricane-hunter aircraft muster 
at Roosevelt Roads, the military 
field from which they attacked hur- 
ricane Debbie in 1969. The two 
NOAA WP-3D Orions are on 
hand, both carrying state-of-the- 
art instrumentation that includes 
lidars (the laser equivalent of ra- 
dar) and microwave Doppler ra- 
dar, which permits them to moni- 
tor fine three-dimensional motions 
of water particles in the storm. 
They'll fly low-level missions for 
eight hours, at altitudes between 

additional heat into the storm 
clouds, arresting the hurricane's 
development when it has expand- 
ed to a broader eye. 

Overhead, two geostationary 
satellites have been placed over 
the equator, 30 degrees apart, 
giving scientists stereo views of 
the storm to detect changes in 
structure after seeding. The en- 
tire experiment is controlled from 
a forward headquarters, through 
the Global Positioning System. 
But, once deployed, the aircraft 
will need an autonomy that match- 
es the variability of the hurricane. 

Well before dawn on the first 
seeding day, one of the Orions 
takes off into the lightening sky 
east of Puerto Rioo, taking sever- 
al hours to reach the hurricane, 

which it enters along the spiral rain- 
bands, flying only 1,000 feet off 
the churning sea. For the next 72 
hours, the hurricane will always 
have one of the Orions in it for ten 
hours at a stretch— back-break- 
ing flying for the crews but nec- 
essary to monitor the storm and 
if possible, to detect the human 
signal caused by seeding. 

The Gulfstreams take off near 
midday, climbing to a cruising al- 
titude above 40,000 feet. Two of 
the Gulfstreams stay high and fly 
some distance from the fringes of 
the storm, sampling the atmos- 
pheric environment for subtle dis- 
turbances that could' introduce a 
false signal into the hurricane. 
The other two fly up the rain- 
bands just above the freezing lev- 
el at about 25,000 feet. 

As the lead Gulfstream plows 
into the hard wall of rising cumu- 
lus cloud along the primary rain- 
band, its radars tell the scientists 
aboard where the best seeding 
will be and vector the aircraft to- 
ward those turrets in the primary 
rainband. Once inside the hard, 
wing-wrenching wall of rising cu- 
mulus lowers, the Gulfstream 
lays down a plume of smoke rich 
in silver iodide, spewed from wing- 
mounted burners. It bucks 
through the eye wall into the 
calm, sun-filled center of the 
storm, then returns along the rain- 
band, seeding it again. The sec- 
ond seeding Gulfstream bulls in- 
to the same area and spews its 
plumes of silver-iodide smoke. 
When they've expended their sil- 
ver-iodide supply, they climb out 
and return to Puerto Rico for fuel 
and a fresh crew. 

No one knows, going in, wheth- 
er our imaginary hurricane will 
turn toward shore or the northern 
Atlantic with a larger eye and di- 
minished winds. Like Debbie in 
1969, it is an experiment, but un- 
like Debbie, it could be a begin- 
ning, not an end. CXI 



From calculation engines to PCs on Beantown's waterfront 

By Frederic Paul 

□ n a Boston wharf, sand- 
wiched between a lob- 
ster shack and a giant 
milk bottle, sits a unique demon- 
stration of the seductive power of 
the PC. Stroll through the Comput- 
er Museum's amazing 50-times- 
scale walk-through computer 
that actually works, and enter 
Tools & Toys: The Amazing Per- 
sonal Computer, a $1 million ex- 
hibit where you can ride through 
virtual reality, shoot a commercial 
starring yourself, make multime- 
dia music, play unique games, 
and even create personalized sou- 

Dedicated to 
documenting and 

the artifacts of the 


Age, the Computer 

Museum also 

demonstrates and 


venirs- — all in about an hour. 

Tools & Toys uses standard 
hardware — all donated— and spe- 
cial adaptations of existing com- 
mercial software along with spe- 
cial custom applications to show 
that "computing can be fun, even 
if you've never done it before," 
says Oliver Strimpel, the muse- 
um's executive director. 

The exhibit "was definitely 
geared to young children and fam- 
ilies," agrees exhibit director 
David Greschler, "but it ended up 
appealing to power users and peo- 

ple in the computer industry" as 
well. With seven distinct environ- 
ments housing more than 35 sta- 
tions, "the breadth of the exhibit 
pulls them in," he says. 

The environments include Mak- 
ing Pictures, Writing, Making 
Sounds, Adding It Up, Exploring 
Information, Playing Games, and 
Sharing Ideas. The key to the proj- 
ect's success is that instead of 
watching static demo programs, 
visitors take control. "The exhib- 
its are three-dimensional experi- 
ences," says Greschler. "The ex- 
perience is the message." 

One of the most popular exhib- 
its is Be Your Own Band, which 
combines a MIDI (Musical Instru- 
ment Digital Interface) system, key- 
board, and drum pad to let visi- 
tors create their own musical com- 
positions. You can lay your own 
tracks over rock, funk, classical, 
or salsa backgrounds to create 
multilayered instrumentals. A 
Macintosh controls the tempo, 
pitch, and volume. 

Another station, called the Vir- 
tual Reality Chair exemplifies the 
PC's ability to create whole new 
worlds. The station offers a swivel- 
chair voyage through an imagi- 
nary landscape, complete with vir- 
tual mountains, a virtual house, 
and even a virtual dog that 
barks if you come too close. The 
first and still one of the few per- 
manent virtual-reality exhibits in 
the world, the Virtual Reality 
Chair is a unique compromise be- 
tween the simplicity of computer- 
game simulations and the com- 
plex, high-powered requirements 
of full-scale virtual reality. 

The SampleStick shows how 
computers can match disparate 
elements to build something new. 
Visitors use a joystick to compose 
new music from digitized sam- 
ples of prerecorded composi- 
tions, just as rap D.J.'s use sam- 
pled sounds to create new hits. 
A remarkably hip selection in- 

cludes bits from many of the lead- 
ing rock and pop stars of the last 
half century. 

The individual stations are on- 
ly part of the story, however. The 
sweeping curves of brightly col- 
ored walls, supergraphics, and 
glass bricks make the exhibit 
look like a computer playground," 
claims exhibit designer Ted 
Groves. "The playground feeling 
comes from the fact that most of 
what you see on the screens — 
including the colors — goes on the 
walls, goes in the paint." 

Tools & Toys began in the ear- 
ly 1 980s as the brainchild of Bos- 
ton Computer Society founder Jon- 
athan Rotenberg, and BCS volun- 
teers played a big role in program- 
ming many of the exhibit stations. 
Funding was supplied by a who's- 
who list of PC luminaries, includ- 
ing Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, 
Mitch Kapor (the Kapor Family 
Foundation), Apple Computer, Dig- 
ital Equipment, and many others. 

The Computer Museum spent 
six months testing each station in 
its exhibit lab, looking for bugs 
and making sure people "got it." 
Many stations were changed dur- 
ing the evaluation period, recalls 
Greschler. To make sure the ex- 
hibit appealed to its target audi- 
ence, the museum asked a 
group of eighth graders from Bos- 
ton's Martin Luther King middle 
school to act as consultants, 
checking that the directions 
were clear and the stations excit- 
ing and challenging. 

With about 25,000 square feet 
of exhibition space, the Comput- 
er Museum receives some 
130,000 visitors annually. Found- 
ed in 1982 as a nonprofit institu- 
tion for collecting artifacts of the 
Computer Age, it has since ex- 
panded into an entertaining, inter- 
active, and constantly growing 
learning center that charts the 
evolution, technology, and appli- 
cation of computers. DQ 

The 1957 Ford Fairlane 500 


Fully authorized by Ford Motor Company. 

The definitive die-cast replica of Ford's revolutionary 
convertible hardtop. With retractable roof that folds down 
into the trunk, just like the original. Precision engineered 
in 1:24 scale from more than 140 separate parts. 

snown approximately actual size 
of 8V." (22.22 cm) L. Scale 1:24. 

In the decade when man first 
reached for the stars, it was a 
natural. A quantum leap in auto- 
motive technology, it helped 
make the '50s fabulous. The 
1957 Skyliner. The first practical, 
automatic retractable hardtop. 
Now, the ultimate gizmo car of 
the Fifties becomes a sizzling die- 

cast re-creation from Franklin 
Mint Precision Models. 

From those snazzy tail fins to 
the "picnic basket" storage bin in 
the trunk, it's all here! 

Swing open the door for a 
trip through time. The fully 
instrumented dash, soft seats and 
the steering wheel that actually 

turns. The hood opens to reveal 
the highly detailed re-creation of 
the 312 cid Thunderbird "Special 
V-8." And, of course, the trade- 
mark hardtop folds down into the 
trunk to capture that wind- 
through-your-hair feeling of the 
real Skyliner. 

The price for this specially 

imported classic, $120, payable 
in monthly installments. 

Satisfaction Guaranteed 

If you wish to return any Franklin 
Mint Precision Models purchase, 
you may do so within 30 days of 
your receipt of that purchase for 
replacement, credit or refund. 

Franklin Mint Precision Modelsf Simply Miles Ahead. 

j ', n! ' n ■■ ii ■ :■■'■ ■■■: 'i vi, j ■... 
Franklin Center, PA 19091-0001 
YES! Please enter my order for the 
precision -engineered replica of the 
1957 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner , to be 
sent to me frilly assembled and ready 
for immediate display. 

Prior to shipment, i will be billed for a 
deposit of $24* and after shipment, 
for the balance in 4 monthly install- 
ments of $24* each. 



Please mail by March 31. 1994. 


© 13Q4 FMPM 

used under licer 

sefrom Ford Motor Company. 


Learning how the Mycenaeans lived by examining how they died 

By Mary Ann Tawasha 

From the first archaeo- 
logical dig in Crete by 
Arthur Evans at the an- 
cient city of Knossos in 1900 to 
' last summer's excavation on a hill- 
side behind the village of Moch- 
los on the island of Mochlos, ar- 
chaeologists have unearthed 
urns, utensils, and even complete 
Cretan villages. By examining 
these shards and artifacts, they 
now know a lot about the lives of 
people who lived in Crete during 
the Bronze Age, a period that 
soanned from 3000 to 1200 B.C. 
As a result of the latest interna- 
tional dig, some light has been 
shed on the mystery of the burial 
rituals of the Mycenaeans laid to 
rest in Cretan hillsides. 

Codirected by Jeffrey Soles, 
an archaeologist and head of the 
classical studies department at 
the University of North Carolina at 
Greensboro (UNCG), and Costas 
Davaras, director of Antiquities in 
Eastern Crete, the international 
team excavated seven chamber 
tombs in a cemetery that dates 

from about 1370 to 1200 B.C. 

According to Andrew Smith, 
trench master of the dig, they 
first had to remove small stones 
that served as entrance markers 
to the tomb. Then they entered a 
small, shallow corridor, about 10 
to 15 feet long, which led into the 
hillside at a slight downward 
slant. At the end of the corridor, 
they found the entrance to the 
chamber — haphazardly walled 
up with rocks. After they removed 
the rocks by hand, one by one, 
they stood at the opening of a hol- 
low chamber cut from the hill- 
side — the burial site. 

Historians have speculated 
that Bronze Age graves were ac- 
tually opened when other family 
members died. Last summer's ex- 
cavation provided evidence to 
support the nuclear-family burial 
theory. Several of the tombs con- 
tained two members, a male and 
a female. 

"When there were two burials, 
the first burial was laid out and 
the tomb closed. Later, it was re- 
opened and the first burial was dis- 
placed within the tomb to make 
room for the second burial/' 
Soles says. "In one chamber, I 
found that the bones of the earli- 
er burial had been broken up and 
placed into a pyxis, a large 
round vase with a lid." Mycenae- 
ans were usually buried in a sar- 
cophagus, a terra-cotta coffin. 
Sometimes the bones were 
stored in a pithos, a clay storage 
jar, or a pyxis. 

The largest tomb, number 13, 
was about five feet high. Inside, 
the excavators discovered a sar- 
cophagus that contained' the skel- 
etal remains of a burial and a 
large pyxis decorated in a check- 
ered pattern. A rhyta, a ritual 
vase used for pouring libations or 
offerings to the gods, lay on top 
of the other vessels; it was the 
last artifact 'placed in the tomb. 

Two ritual vases were shaped 

like pomegranates— a "particular- 
ly unusual find," Soles says. 
From the sixth century B.C. on, the 
pomegranate was significant be- 
cause it was often a gift for the 
dead. "It was a symbol of re- 
birth," he says. The archaeolo- 
gists also discovered stemmed 
drinking goblets (kylikes), which 
indicate that the survivors 
shared a ritual meal before buri- 
al. Other gifts to the departed in- 
cluded stirrup jars (closed ves- 
sels with a spout and two handles 
in the shape of a stirrup), jugs, 
kraters (mixing bowls), drinking 
cups, and jewelry. In one of the 
tombs, Soles says, they found a 
bronze bowl that contained a 
gold signet ring, a bronze dress 
pin, and a necklace made of 50 
tiny beads in the shape of an ivy 
leaf with a large gold bead in the 
center. "To find so many artifacts 
and vessels intact was amazing," 
Smith says. 

Judging from the intricate art- 
work on the pottery, Soles thinks 
the Mycenaeans who inhabited 
this settlement on Crete were high- 
ly skilled people. "They seemed 
to be remarkably prosperous, al- 
though not wealthy," he remarks. 
"They were probably everyday 
people, local land owners who 
traded with the western part of 
Crete and the Greek mainland." 

With each excavation on the 
islands scattered about the 
Aegean, we learn more and 
more about the people we now 
know as the Mycenaeans— how 
these traders lived and how they 
died. There are still as many as 
70 tombs to excavate on Mochlos 
alone, Soles says. This summer, 
he and Davaras plan to open an- 
other 15 to 20 tombs. "We hope 
to be able to distinguish the dif- 
ferent statuses and roles of the 
whole population," he says. Iron- 
ically, we get closer to the Myce- 
naeans' lives by examining how 
they dealt with death. DO 



New multimedia packages put the space back in cyberspace 

By Gregg Keizer 

■ ffe ■ e can't a// ride a rock- 
I et into space, cruise 
\J \J the interstellar void, or 
even claim a close encounter of 
the first (much less the third) 
kind. There's a quota for these 
kinds of things, you know. Only 
the best and the brightest get to 
climb on board the Shuttle, and 
only the lucky get to spot a danc- 

Locator Map 1 


MENU 1 - 


* ,;- 




^ ' 

While some 
titles offer a 
ride on the 
space shuttle or 
of planets, UFO 
..v.::;:;:-r : 
database with 
more than 
1,200 close en- 
counters from 
around the world. 

ing light in the sky and say 
they've seen a UFO. 

Vicarious though the virtual ex- 
perience may be, however, any- 
one with a CD-ROM-equipped 
PC — and in some cases, a Macin- 
tosh — can get a taste of space. 
These guided-tour software titles 
don't give the feeling of some sol- 
id rocket boosters at your back : 
but then you don't risk space sick- 
ness either. 

The Software Toolworks' Space 

Shuttle, a CD-ROM disc for the 
PC, ranks as one of the best ex- 
cursions for space fans. Unlike a 
simulator, Space Shuttle doesn't 
let you run the complex space- 
craft, but instead walks you 
through training, takes you up on 
53 different missions, and shows 
you how the crew lives and 
works. Because it's on CD-ROM, 
Space Shuttle is heavily narrated 
and includes minimovies of launch- 
es, landings, and mission ele- 
ments. When you ask it to tell you 
about crew meals, for instance, 
you listen to descriptions and 
watch a short video of heating de- 
hydrated food and eating with 
magnetic utensils. 

It's at its most interesting (and 
educational) when you fly one of 
the more than 50 STS missions. 
Pick STS-49, for example, and 
you watch as three astronauts 
wrestle the Intelsat telecommuni- 
cations satellite into the cargo 
bay. Missions include everything 
from the first orbital test of Colum- 
bian the January 1992 launch of 
Endeavor, although those dedicat- 
ed to the Department of Defense 
don't include any in-space activ- 
ity for you to monitor. Even the dis- 
astrous Challenger mission is 
part of the mix. 

For a decidedly different expe- 
rience with space, try Software 
Marketing's UFO; The Planet's 
Most Complete Guide to Close En- 
counters. Essentially a database 
of more than 1 ,200 encounter in- 
cidents, UFO lets you search by 
several criteria, including cattle 
mutilations, abductions, and psy- 
chic phenomena. It then displays 
the sightings on a world map, 
shows photographs taken at the 
scene, and in more than 20 cas- 
es, runs short video clips purport- 
ing to show unidentified flying ob- 
jects in motion. Like Space Shut- 
tle, UFO plays on a PC from a CD- 
ROM disc. 

If you're already a believer, 

this package will only strengthen 
your faith, but don't expect UFO 
to turn a skeptic into a disciple: 
The inclusion of the now-de- 
bunked crop circles in Great Brit- 
ain and the oddball cattle mutila- 
tions in the United States take 
UFOXo the fringe. 

You're on safer scientific 
ground when you pop Time 
Warner Interactive Group's Mur- 
murs of Earth in your Macintosh 
or PC CD-ROM drive. This eclec- 
tic two-disc collection includes all 
the images, greetings, diagrams, 
and songs that were packed on- 
to gold-plated phonographs and 
bundled aboard both of the Voy- 
ager spacecraft. You can listen to 
the greetings and the music— 
including Louis Armstrong's "Mel- 
ancholy Blues" and a Navajo 
chant — on a standard audio CD 
player. To view the 116 images 
that Carl Sagan and others select- 
ed back in 1977, though, you'll 
need your computer. Just what, 
you'll wonder, would an alien 
race make of the shot of birthing 
a baby 7 

Of more general interest is The 
View from Earth, another CD 
from Time Warner that works 
with either a multimedia-ready PC 
or on a Macintosh. This talking 
Time-Life book doesn't play mov- 
ing pictures (too bad) but com- 
bines more than 600 sharp pho- 
tographs and color illustrations 
with several hours of narration 
and music. You take tours 
through sections about the sun, 
the moon, Earth, and the other 
planets, There's nothing too 
deep here, so The View from 
Earth makes a good pick for the 
family that's interested in science. 

Whether you're exploring on 
your own or as part of an electron- 
ic guided tour, the joy of titles 
like these lies in the traveling. Get- 
ting there — when there is some- 
where you'd never reach in reali- 
ty—is all the fun. DO 



Amblyrhiza inundata was one of the biggest ever 

By Patrick Huyghe 

he phrase "island mag- 
ic" is more than travel- 
industry hype. Natural- 
ists have long noted thai animals 
tend to evolve significantly small- 
er or larger bodies on islands. But 
the tremendous size of an extinct 
rodent found in cave deposits on 
the islands of Anguilla and Saint 
Holy COW!— 01 Martin goes far beyond what sci- 
ShOUlti we entists normally have in mind. 
say rodent This "It's unbelievable," says Ross 

monstrous MacPhee, curator of mammals at 
specimen— the the American Museum of Natural 
Size Of a History in New York City. "These 
were absolutely 
humongous ro- 
dents. The largest 
ones may have 
been the size of 
a large brown 
bear." This gigan- 
tic rodent, known 
as Amblyrhiza in- 
undata, "is a real 
puzzle," contin- 
ues MacPhee. 
"Its size breaks all 
kinds of ecolog- 
ical rules. We 
know that selec- 
tion pressures can 
produce strange 
effects— rn in iaturiz- 
1 bear — ing elephants and hippos on Med- 
roamed the iterranean islands, creating giant 
isles of Anguilla flightless' birds in Madagascar, 
and Saint and so on— but there is no prec- 
Martin 100,000 edent for island rodents becom- 
years ago. ing nearly as big as they did in 
Anguilla and Saint Martin." 

Though its remains were first 
discovered more than a century 
ago, no one has known exactly 
how large the rodent was since 
no complete skeleton of the ani- 
mal has ever been found. But 
now MacPhee and his col- 
leagues, anatomist Audrone Bik- 
nevicius at Ohio University and bi- 
ologist Donald McFarlane at Clare- 
mont-McKenna College, have 
developed rigorous estimates of 
the rodent's size, making the 

best of a paltry collection of avail- 
able bone fragments. By measur- 
ing the cross-sectional area of the 
animal's leg bones and compar- 
ing these with the leg bones of liv- 
ing rodents and other mammals 
of known body weight, the scien- 
tists have determined that while 
the smallest specimens of Am- 
blyrhiza were equal in body 
mass to the largest living rodent, 
the 100-pound capybara of 
South America, the largest of the 
species were as much as four 
times that size. 

Amblyrhiza's existence first 
came to light in 1868 when a phos- 
phate manufacturer in Philadel- 
phia sent Edward Cope, the re- 
nowned nineteenth-century pale- 
ontologist, a block of phosphatic 
ore from Anguilla in which the 
beast's bones and teeth were em- 
bedded. Cope identified the re- 
mains as those of a rodent— its 
dentition and jaw structure were 
unmistakable — and then eyed a 
few long bone fragments to esti- 
mate that the animal was compa- 
rable in size to a Virginia deer. He 
also noted that some individuals 
were considerably smaller and pro- 
posed that there had once been 
several species of Amblyrhiza. 

This size variation, startling in 
itself, was confirmed by MacPhee 
and his colleagues with an anal- 
ysis of the animal's incisor teeth, 
but they doubt that such tiny is- 
lands could have simultaneously 
supported more than one spe- 
cies of giant rodent. Instead, the 
size variation may represent a dif- 
ference in the sexes — despite the 
fact that living rodents show a 
mere 2- to 4-percent difference in 
size by sex — or a variation over 
time. Since most of the rodent's 
remains were collected haphaz- 
ardly and no chronology is avail- 
able for them, it isn't known wheth- 
er or not the two sizes existed at 
the same time. 

Equally puzzling is how these 

creatures ever managed to inhab- 
it these islands more than 
100,000 years ago. "We know es- 
sentially nothing about how it got 
there," notes MacPhee, "because 
its nearest relative is found in Puer- 
to Rico and is very much small- 
er. The general assumption is 
that it reached Anguilla by rafting 
on mats of vegetation and felled 
trees. It's a convenient story, but 
there's no evidence for that." 

Nor is there much evidence for 
the widespread belief that the gi- 
ant rodent coexisted with and 
fell prey to the original native 
West Indians. This belief rests en- 
tirely on the existence of a shell 
scraper, clearly an Indian total, 
which was collected in a cave 
along with the remains of the ro- 
dent. But as Cope himself cau- 
tiously noted, there was no strat- 
igraphic information to suggest 
that the tool was contemporane- 
ous with the rodent fossils. In- 
deed, in the past 125 years, no 
archaeological site suggestive of 
human presence on these is- 
lands has ever yielded a single 
Amblyrhiza bone. 

"I tend to believe these things 
were extinct by the time people 
got there about three thousand 
years ago," says MacPhee. 
"What probably happened is 
that this animal did exactly what 
its species name — inundata— sug- 
gests, which is that it drowned. 
There were two or three times in 
the last 125,000 years when rap- 
idly rising sea levels could have 
overtaken it and resulted in its 
complete extinction." 

And so ends the story of the 
largest rodent ever. Well, not 
quite. The "largest rodent" hon- 
ors, notes MacPhee, actually go 
to Telicomys, an extinct rhinocer- 
os-sized creature that roamed 
South America more than a mil- 
lion years ago. "There's far more 
to biology than what we see rep- 
resented today," he says. DO 

Other Games May Talk. 

This One Has a Voice 

Star Treh The Next Generation's 

Patrick Stewart 

Lands of Lore; 

The Throne of Chaos 


ith Patrick Stewart as the voice of King 

Richard, Lands of Lore has a royal advantage over 

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makes it possible 

The Dark Army is on the move, led by the shape- 
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meet her she'll be more powerful and terrifying 
than the last. But your powers can grow, too. 
Experienced-based character development makes 
great warriors of those who take arms (in real-time 
combat) against a sea of indescribable monsters 
and makes mighty 
wizards of those 
who cast Larger- 
Than-Life spells. 
Explore ancient 
castles, living 
forests, hidden lairs, bustling towns, haunted 
caverns, through 30 enchanted 
levels made vividly real by more 
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For the PC CD-ROM 


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Turning NASA research into a comfy chair 

By Nina L. Diamond 

It may look 
but Brian Park's 
" :■;.::• 
Chair promises 
leled comfort 
for reading, 
meditation, or 
just sitting 
around— plus, It's 
"II ""■";.,- 
seal of approval. 

I f% | hen Brian V. Park set 
I out to build himself a 

%m \J reclining chair so he 
could meditate in comfort he had 
no idea it might end up being 
used by astronauts to simulate 
microgravity. But it's actually rath- 
er fitting that Park's sleek "Flogis- 
ton Chair" should find its way to 
NASA, because it was NASA re- 
search that inspired him in the 
first place. 

The first chair to duplicate the 
neutral body posture, the natural 
position a body assumes in weight- 
less space, Park's chair minimiz- 
es internal and external physical 
stress so that "all the muscular 
forces are in balance; the body 
is in biomechanical equilibrium," 
he says. Back in 1980, Park, 
then an oil-industry design engi- 
neer, just wanted to achieve nir- 
vana without getting wet. "I 
thought that sitting stiffly in the lo- 
tus position wasn't exactly opti- 
mum," he laughs. "You end up fo- 
cusing on the pain in your legs in- 
stead of meditating." Floating in 
water — used by NASA for micro- 
gravity training — seemed the on- 
ly way at the time to keep the 
body stress free. 

Then, flipping through an issue 
of NASA Tech Briefs, he noticed 
drawings of the neutral body pos- 
ture. That was the "Aha!" he'd 
been looking for. While designing 
his chair, Park took advantage of 
the voluminous NASA research 
available to the public, reviewing 
Skylab studies on body posture, 
consulting with engineers at the 
Johnson Space Center, and incor- 
porating ideas from NASA's An- 
thropomorphic Source Book, an 
exhaustive three-volume study of 
the human body's size, shape, 
and motion characteristics used 
by the designers of the astro- 
nauts' workstations. 

In 1981. Park built his proto- 
type chair with a plywood frame 
"and sat in it for eight years won- 

dering what it was for." His origi- 
nal design evolved into a final 
state that includes long-memory 
foam, similar to the foam used in 
the space shuttle's seats, cov- 
ered by fabric or leather. The 
chair can be in a fixed position, 
rockable, or suspended from the 
ceiling; comes in two standard siz- 
es; and can also be custom fit. 
It's tapered, wider at the feet 
than the head, and "makes you 
perpendicular to gravity," he ex- 
plains. "Your. behind and your 
back are at 30 degrees up, yo.ur 
shoulders are at normal rest, 
your elbows are bent, and your 
knees are level with your chest." 

Sounds odd, but Park reminds 
us that "when you lie in this 
chair, you're in a posture the 
body loves to be in. Everyone has 
a neutral posture, but we can on- 
ly experience it floating in water 
and partially when we're on our 
side in a semifetal position. After 
a few minutes in a completely neu- 
tral posture, you lose awareness 
of the body because it's in bal- 
ance. The pressure is evenly 
distributed and there are no 
hard contact points." 

Park received a utility patent 
on the Flogiston Chair in late 
1992 and formed his Austin, Tex- 
as-based Flogiston Corporation 

to market it for office and home. 
Every body at a desk or comput- 
er can benefit, he says, because 
the chair counteracts physical 
and mental stress and helps to in- 
crease concentration. He also 
sees it as a comfy place to read, 
watch TV, and, of course, medi- 
tate; in the not-so-distant future, 
it will form the perfect base for vir- 
tual-reality adventures. The chair 
will be on the market shortly — 
prices will start at just under 
$1-000 for the standard model. 

Once Park finished his design, 
NASA began to look at the chair 
not only as a nifty spinoff of their 
research, but as a piece of com- 
fy hardware that could come full 
circle. Mounted on the astro- 
nauts' training platform, it could 
provide the ideal recliner for sim- 
ulations. Wearing goggles, the as- 
tronauts "will use virtual reality 
and feel like they're in micrograv- 
ity in a miniature flight chamber," 
says Park. That's a major improve- 
ment, because "up until now, the 
only way to simulate that was to 
float in water tanks." 

NASA hopes to begin using 
the Flogiston Chair in astronaut 
training in late summer 1994 — 
Park is busy modifying it for 
them, adding a special base so 
it can move around. R. Bowen Loft- 
in, principal investigator for Ad- 
vanced Training Technologies at 
Johnson Space Center, says the 
chair "has the potential to add a 
large dimension of reality to the 
virtual- reality experience," adding 
that, with the new base, "we can 
simulate the behavior of the body 
in motion in space." 

Park's space-age designs 
have led him out of oil and into 
an entirely new career. Working 
with Oceaneering Space Sys- 
tems, a NASA subcontractor, 
Park is also designing the space 
station refrigerator and galley. 

We just hope he still has time 
to meditate. DO 



New World service in an Old World country. Plus, 

riding the lunar rails, and in space, no one can hear you sneeze 

In many places in the world, the 
last thing tourist-besieged citi- 
zens want is more camera-toting, 
sensible-shoe-sporting foreigners 
in town. In the countries of the for- 
mer Soviet Bloc, however, tour- 
ism is the golden calf, the indus- 
try that many see as their best 
chance for fiscal salvation. Con- 
sequently, these nascent nations 
have invested a large part of 
their hopes for the future — not to 
mention a hefty portion of their ex- 
tremely scarce hard currency — 
on making themselves irresistibly 
attractive to travelers. 

Hungary is a case in point. Tamas Teglassy, president of 
the Hungarian Tourist Board, a naturalized American who has 
returned home to help out, explains why his government is 
assiduously funding the trade: "Tourism is a clean, nonpol- 
luting industry. It's very labor intensive and provides lots of 
jobs. Unlike other industries where the money is concentrat- 
ed in one place, money circulates quickly around to a lot of 
people — hotel owners, restaurant workers, shopkeepers, taxi 
drivers. And experts agree that tourism is on the upswing." 

But developing a robust tourist industry is easier said 
than done. There is resentment in many quarters against 
extranationals jetting into town, brandishing wads of 
Deutsche marks or Japanese yen and buying up every worth- 
while property in sight. Teglassy admits, "The nationalist par- 
ties are screaming bloody murder that Hungary is being giv- 
en away to foreigners. But you can't have it both ways. There 
is no internal capital, so capital has to come from abroad or 
the country stagnates." Even when a suitable property is iden- 
tified by interested buyers, foreign or otherwise, there areiur- 
ther complications. Chateaus and manor houses that 
would be great all gussied up as soigne hotel retreats for the 
champagne-and-chandelier crowd are the subject of laby- 
rinthine ownership disputes. Deposed counts are demand- 
ing the return of ancestral homes seized 40 years ago by 
the people's government. 

But the thorniest problems have more to do with attitude 
than facilities. Previously, most visitors to Hungary were 
from the Soviet Bloc or the Soviet Union. "They didn't have 
much money to spend, and they weren't too demanding," 
Teglassy explains. "And since there was a huge shortage 
of hotel rooms, anyone coming from the West had to settle 
for what they got." Peter J. Leitgeb, general manager of the 
Grand Hotel Corvinus Kempinski, Budapest's newest and nat- 

tiest property, attributes the noto- 
riously inadequate service in East- 
ern Europe to the fact that "peo- 
ple were frustrated; there was no 
way of advancement. There was 
no reward for pleasing the custom- 
er. You had the same job, the 
same pay, whether you served 
two customers or twenty, wheth- 
er you were courteous or not." 

The Hotel Corvinus provides 
an object lesson in how a hotel 
should be designed and run, and 
it's determined to reeducate 
those Hungarians who graduated 
from the Karl Marx school of ser- 
vice. It's the first deluxe Hungarian hotel constructed as a 
joint venture with a foreign company. Located at one of the 
town's main squares, its distinctive post-post-Stalinist design 
tempts half of Budapest to come in. "The hotel is not intend- 
ed just to be a castle for foreigners," says Leitgeb. "We al- 
so wanted it to be a place for the local community to gath- 
er. That's why we put three restaurants on the ground floor." 
In fact, food and beverage receipts normally split 60 percent 
foreigners, 40 percent locals. 

In place of the dull-eyed, slow-moving functionaries ubiq- 
uitous in Eastern Europe is a squadron o^ fresh-faced young- 
sters who make up for their gaffes in English by their charm 
and eagerness to please. "With our staff, we wanted to de- 
velop something new, to try to set a trend which could be a 
new operating philosophy," says Leitgeb. "We were looking 
for service-oriented, guest-oriented people — young, well ed- 
ucated, good looking, and highly motivated. We train them 
on PCs; they can do complex management charts and 
know what the clientele are looking for." 

Tnere are still obstacles, however. "Hungary needs a glob- 
al tourist strategy that works," Leitgeb says, "to encourage 
quality tourism, to attract people who will be going into 
shops and spending money. The other hotels here see us 
as competition. They don't think three steps down the road 
to consider that the strategy must be to attract more peo- 
ple to Budapest. Whether they stay in my hotel or your ho- 
tel isn't as important as getting them here in the first place." 
In order to do this, Budapest won its bid to host the T996 
World's Fair. 

"Competition is good." Both Teglassy and Leitgeb chant 
this like a mantra. In fact, the Hotel Corvinus may have 
done too good a job. Leitgeb says his competitors "are now 
trying to steal my personnel."— MELANIE MENAGH 


Fetal-nerve-tissue experiments currently underway with cats may 
eventually help repair spinal 7 cord injuries in humans. 


More than 250,000 people 
currently live with spinal-cord 
injuries. Modern medicine 
has not yet found a way to 
restore movement and 
feeling to their limbs, but 
experiments involving trans- 
plants of fetal nerve tissue 
could change that. 

Paul J. Reier and Douglas 
K. Anderson, neuroscientists 
at the University of Florida 
Brain Institute, injected 
a kind of soup made of both 
solid and separated fetal 

through magnetic-resonance 
imaging (MRI) scans. 

Two of the cats rejected 
the transplanted material, 
and three others showed no 
signs of recovery. But 
eight of them regained vir- 
tually normal walking and 
stair-climbing ability, and two 
other cats showed measur- 
able progress. 

"The immune system is 
still the big hurdle/' Reier 
says. "We're a long way from 
having a method that can 
be routinely applied in 
human medicine, but our 


nerve cells and tissue taken 
from cats' brain stems and 
spinal cords into 15 other 
cats with humanlike spinal- 
cord injuries. They grafted 
the material directly onto 
the injury sites, pinpointed 

findings indicate it may 
be possible." 

Reier looks forward to the 
day when doctors can in- 
ject cloned cells to restore 
motor function; recent 
studies indicate that some 


A cold or flu virus can 
spread like wildfire in 
the confines of an office 
building or a college 
dorm. How fast would such 
microbes spread in the 
even more cramped quar- 
ters of the space shuttle? 
Researchers at NASA's 
Johnson Space Center and 
the University of Texas 
Medical School aim to find 
out by studying the trans- 
mission of the bacterium 
Staphylococcus aureus 
from astronaut to astronaut. 

28 OMNi 

Staph aureus is found in 
the noses of 20 to 40 
percent of the population, 
where it usually does no 
harm. Many strains of Staph 
aureus exist, each of which 
can be identified through 
DNA fingerprinting. 

The NASA researchers 
first fingerprinted the 
strains of Staph aureus in 
the noses of shuttle crew 
members before a launch. 
When the shuttle returned to 
Earth, the researchers 
checked the noses of the 
crew again to see if they'd 
swapped strains of bugs. 

Although the study is 
not yet complete, it appears 
that microbes don't spread 
as quickly as the research- 
ers had thought — or at 
least not as fast as studies 
done in the days of Apollo 
and Skylab had indicated, 
according to Duane L. 
Pierson, chief of microbiolo- 
gy at the Johnson Space 
Center. "An Apollo capsule 
with three crew members 
was much smaller and more 
crowded than the shuttle," 
Pierson says. And Skylab 
missions lasted much longer 
than the current shuttle 

flights. However, Pierson 
points out, during the 
upcoming longer-duration 
flights of the shuttle and 
the space station, the 
chances of microbes travel- 
ing from astronaut to as- 
tronaut increase. "With all 
the things that increase the 
risk of infectious diseases 
in space — a closed environ- 
ment, crowded living condi- 
tions, limited capabilities 
for personal hygiene or for 
disinfecting things — we're 
trying to anticipate problems 
and plan for the future," 
Pierson says. — Devera Pine 

embryonic nerve cells — idea! 
for such purposes — may 
well remain in the central 
nervous systems of humans 
after they reach adult- 
hood. The use of material 
taken from the injured 
patients themselves would 
neatly sidestep the rejection 
problem. — George Nobbe 

"America did not invent 
human rights, in a very real 
sense, it is the other 
way around. Human rights 
invented America. " 

— Jimmy Carter 

Can a drug help binge eaters 
stay away from sweet foods? 


Treatments for most people 
with eating disorders con- 
centrate on psychological 
factors that might be causing 
the behavior. Research 
indicates that, indeed, binge 
eaters' problems might be 
all in their heads — but in a 
different way. 

Binge eaters tend to 
consume large quantities of 
foods high in fat and sugar. 
Recent research suggests 
that natural opioids — narcot- 
ics produced by the brain- 

mediate the craving for these 
foods. However, the opioid 
receptors in the brains of 
bingers are probably working 
overtime, resulting in an 
artificially high need for opi- 
oids. This causes the bingers 
to eat foods laden with 
fat and sugar, which stimu- 
late opioid production. 

Researchers have found 
that bingers have higher 
opioid levels than do normal 
women, says University of 
Michigan nutritionist Adam 
Drewnowski. In addition, 
some data indicate that a 
drug called naloxone, which 
blocks the brain's opioid 
receptors, can help bingers 
eat less, Intrigued, Drew- 
nowski looked at the effects 
of naloxone on bulimics — 
who tend to binge and then 
purge — and normal eaters. 

He and his colleagues 
gave either naloxone or a 
placebo to 14 bingers 
and 12 normal eaters who 
rated their taste preferences 
for a variety of foods. In 
both groups, Drewnowski 
says, the participants given 
naloxone reported lower 
taste preferences for foods 
high in sugar and fat. 
More important, "it also 
reduced the consumption of 
foods that were" either 
sweet or high in fat or both in 
the binge eaters." 

Unfortunately, naloxone 
won't provide an answer for 
binge eaters, Drewnowski 
says, because its effects 
don't last long enough. But 
now that the relationship 
between the brain and binge 
eating is better understood, 
he predicts that "a chemical 
or pharmaceutical antidote 
for binge eating is on the ■ 
horizon. "—Paul McCarthy 

Toss some seaweed on that fire! Three California inventors have 
found that dried kelp quickly quenches flames. 




Believe it or not, an industry 
centered around kelp 
thrives off the coast of San 
Diego, California, where 
2,000 tons of leafy seaweed 
are harvested daily. From 
the kelp comes a gelatinous 
compound called algin 
that helps keep ice cream 
smooth and beer foamy. 

The algin-extraction proc- 
ess produces an unpleasant 
byproduct, a fishy-smelling 
slurry. Disposing of it 
presented a problem until 
three inventors from Damco, 
a truck and heavy-equipment 
rental company in Chula 
Vista, California, accidentally 
discovered that the stuff 
can snuff out fires and ab- 
sorb and contain liquid fuel 
spread by fire-fighting efforts. 

Michael R. Bustamante, 
John J. Renaker, Jr., and 
Donald A. Magley had 
actually begun testing the 
slurry as a potential sound- 
proofing and oil-absorbent 
material; they also wanted 
to use the kelp as an alterna- 


five fuel. During one fuel test, 
they got a bigger blaze than 
expected — much bigger. 
Someone tossed some dried 
kelp on the flames, which 
doused them in seconds. 

"The product-safety tests 
showed the substance 
was 10 percent water, 45 
percent kelp, and 45 percent 
perlite, a filtering agent," 
Bustamante says. 

Taking advantage of its 
serendipitous discovery, 
Damco now makes fire- 
suppressant bricks, flakes, 
and powder. The company 
mixes the kelp sludge 
with water, smooths it out in 
a two-inch layer to dry in 
the sun, mulches it into 
something resembling kitty 
litter, and packages it in 
11-pound bags that retail for 
about $15 a cubic foot. 
The bricks are used to build 
fire walls. — George Nobbe 


In patients with heart disease, simply recalling anger produces a 
physical reaction similar to a heart attack. 


We've all seen movies in 
which a character becomes 
enraged, turns beet red, and 
keels over from a massive 
heart attack. While Holly- 
wood oversimplifies the 
situation, according to Stan- 
ford psychiatrist C. Barr 
Taylor, new research indi- 
cates that anger could 
probably bring on a heart 
attack in a man with severe 
heart disease. 

Taylor and his coworkers 
exposed one group of 
heart-disease sufferers and 
another group of healthy 
controls to various forms of 
stress: riding a bicycle, 
giving a short speech, doing 

mental arithmetic, and recall- 
ing an incident that produced 
anger. Surprisingly, in the 
heart-disease patients — but 
not the controls— the recalled 
anger caused the greatest 
reduction in the amount 
of blood flowing from the left 
ventricle of the heart to 
the aorta and out to the body. 
In a more exaggerated 
form, this phenomenon could 
lead to a heart attack. 

Anger may cause the 
blood vessels that lead to the 
heart to constrict or spasm, 
making less blood available 
to the heart, Taylor specu- 
lates. Simply remembering 
an anger-related event 
brought about a mild form of 
this reaction, but actually 

experiencing anger could 
potentially have more severe 
consequences: Subjects 
asked to compare recalling 
anger to experiencing anger 
deemed the real thing to be 
twice as stressful. 

Still, Taylor doesn't want to 
scare men unnecessarily. 
Only those with severe heart 
disease have anything to 

worry about, he cautions, 
and even then their risk factor 
depends on "how open and 
how diseased the blood 
vessels are/' 

—Paul McCarthy 

"The more things 
change, the more they 
remain insane. " 

— Johnny Carson 


What's better for baby, Be 
breast or the bottle? The : 
debate has raged on far -at 
least half 'a century. Now 
researchers in Scotland 
have come down squarely 
on the side of the breast: 
Mother's milk, say the : 
scientists, contains a sub- 
stance vital to the develop- 
ment of a baby's brain. 

James Farquharson and 
his colleagues at the Royal 
Hospital for Sick Children in 
Glasgow examined brain 
tissue from 22 babies who 
had died during tie first 
year of life. The babies who 
had been breastfed, the 

"researchers discovered, 
showed significantly higher 
levels of docosahexaenoic 
acid (DHA), a polyunsaturat- 
ed fatty acid known to be 
an important nutrient for the 
developing cerebral cortex. , 

"There's no doubt," 
Farquharson says, "that 
DHA m appropriate con- 
centrations should be 
going 1 into formula milk" for 
mothers who choose not to 
breastfeed. Some non-U. S. 
manufacturers, he notes, 
add small amounts of DHA i:: 
to formulas intended for 
premature babies. But, he 
says, "as far as I know, h 
there are no American 
companies currently add- ■■ 
ing DHA to their formulas." 
—Bill Lawren. 





Years of study on board 
manned spacecraft have 
proven that weightlessness 
causes the progressive 
loss of bone mineral and 
decreases cardiovascular 
conditioning, resulting 
in a rapid heartbeat and low 
blood pressure when astro- 
nauts return to Earth. On 
extended visits to the moon 
and Mars — with gravity of 
17 percent and 38 percent of 
Earth's, respectively— space 
travelers may well run into 
the same problems. Lex 
Schultheis, assistant profes- 
sor at the Johns Hopkins 
hospital, suggests that a 
remedy to the problem might 
be "virtual gravity" — a 
railroad that will create 
Earth-level gravity on 
the moon or another planet. 

In Schultheis's plan, a 
laboratory, office, of living 
quarters loaded onto a train 
of sorts would move along 
a steeply banked track. 
The centripetal accelera- 

tion resulting from the 
banking of the track would 
augment the planet's gravity, 
the level of which could 
be adjusted by varying the 
angle of the bank, the 
radius of the track, and the 
train's speed. The colonists 
could live full-time in the 
moving facility or simply 
make periodic visits. 

"Banking a track is not 
new technology," Schultheis 
explains. "It's simpler than, 
for example, developing a 
new drug that may exhibit 
side effects ten years down 
the road." 

He's now studying how 
much gravity is needed to 
maintain healthy bones and 
cardiovascular circulation. 
His studies also cover how 
acceleration and rotation 
affect balance and vision. 

—Patricia Barnes-Svarney 

ENGLAND IN 1987, 15 


A biodegradable plastic film 
derived from cheese whey 
and waste potatoes could 
have a big future in compost 
bags and as a substitute for 
packaging material now 
coated with polyethylene or 
hydrophobic wax. The new 
film breaks down into lactic 
acid, a natural chemical 
found in both milk and the 
human body. 
The process, developed 

at the Argonne National 
Laboratory, uses enzymes to 
convert the whey and 
potatoes into glucose syrup, 
which then ferments with 
bacteria to form a lactic-acid 
broth, according to Argonne 
polymer chemist Patrick 
Bonsignore. After electro- 
dialysis separates the 
pure acid from the broth, the 
acid is heated to release 
water molecules, leaving 
molecules of polylactic acid 
that can be formed into 
films and coatings. 

"There are still a few gray 
areas involving problems - 
with a high enough purity of 
the lactic acid," Bonsignore 
says. EcoChem, a joint ven- 
ture between Du Pont and 
Con Agra, and Cargill intend 
to begin producing the film 
this year for sale to manu- 
facturers. — George Nobbe 

A monorail on the 
moon 'may keep 
astronauts healthy. 














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ot quite half a century ago, had you asked meteorologists 

Not quite half a century 
whether in the 1990s a 

powerful hurricane could chop the 

communities of south Florida into matchwood, they very likely 

would have chuckled at your lack of vision. Everyone knew that 

well before the year 2000 there would be an operational tech- 

nology for weakening severe storms before they made their de- 

structive landfalls. A squadron of aircraft dedicated to hurricane 

suppression would stand by through each summer season. When a 

major storm veered toward shore, the squadron would launch an 

attack, seeding the central rainbands until the destabilized 

hurricane's winds faltered. At the turn of our century, coastal 

homes might still be losing shingles, but hurricanes would no 


Andrew ripped 
through Paradise Point 
(left) and Fort 
Lauderdale (center), 
generating the 
equivalent energy of a 
ten-megaton bomb — 
not for a second, but 
constantly, for 
days. Seen from space, 
Gladys wallops 
the Caribbean (below). 

longer kick their way 
through our towns and cities 
like booted giants. 

Of course, the visionaries 
of the 1950s and 1960s 
were dead wrong. When 
hurricane Andrew ripped 
through south Dade County 
in August 1992, shredding 
the area's light-frame struc- 
tures with its powerful 
winds, it arrived untouched 
by human hands. Radar had 
swept the storm during its ad- 
vance, satellites had moni- 
tored it, computers had sim- 
ulated the various paths it 
might follow on its landward 
run, and aircraft had probed 
the storm again and again. 
But the operational technol- 
ogy that everyone knew 
would be in place by now 
was nowhere to be seen. 

Not that the notion of blunt- 
ing hurricanes had been test- 
ed and found wanting, how- 
ever. After a flurry of support, 
weather modification was sim- 
ply written out of the federal 
agenda in the Carter and ear- 
ly Reagan years. Vaporous 
diplomats, dissent among sci- 
entists, and the elusiveness 
of statistically viable proofs- 
statisticians and their appe- 
tite for significant samples, af- 

36 OMNI 

ter all, are the undertakers of 
daring science — combined 
to suffocate the idea before 

it could be tested in the 
field. Even nature played a 
hand. Contrary as always, 
she cut off the supply of 
seedable hurricanes and sim- 
ply outwaited the truncated 
attention span of policy mak- 
ers. Today, observes one 
long-time researcher, you 
don't even hear hurricane 
modification mentioned; no- 
body wants to think about it: 
For most of human histo- 
ry the idea of somehow tam- 
ing the violent creatures of 
the atmosphere has been 
treated only as fantasy, as 
magic. A sorcerer like Shake- 
speare's Prospero might 
have "call'd forth the muti- 
nous winds and ! twixt the 
green sea and the azur'd 
vault set roaring war," but 
everyone understood that 
such stuff was Faustian non- 
sense. No one knew this bet- 
ter than mariners. They'd 
gone through hurricanes, 
lost ships and shipmates to 
the big storms, and experi- 
enced the metaphorically 
beautiful calm of the central 
eye, where there might be 
white water aplenty but the 

air was calm enough for sea- 
birds to gather and for bat- 
tered ships to rest before be- 
ing overtaken by the cy- 
clone's trailing edge. There 
was also something intense- 
ly personal about being 
thumped at sea by an Atlan- 
tic hurricane or western Pa- 
cific typhoon. The great 
storms were redolent with a 
kind of mystery— when peo- 
ple in the hurricane trade 
talk about Donna or Camille, 
they seem to be talking 
about more than just anoth- 
er natural phenomenon. 

Radar, invented during 
World War II, robbed the 
storms of some of their im- 
ponderable qualities. On ear- 
ly radar screens, the storms 
appeared as white Ror- 
schachlike brutes of cloud 
ringing an empty center, 
their 200-mile diameters com- 

pressed neatly into a six- 
inch cathode-ray display. 
Probing the storms with air- 
craft also drained away 
some of the mystique, de- 
spite the almost legendary 
roughness of the ride. 
These deadly spirals, it 
turned out, were rather easi- 
ly seen. 

Looking at their meteorol- 
ogy, you could tell at once 
that they were really just over- 
sized heat engines. Warm, 
moist air near the ocean sur- 
face was being drawn into a 
spiral around a center of 
very iow atmospheric pres- 
sure, then spun into a cylin- 
drical wall of violent convec- 
tive, vertical clouds around 
an eye. Adding the energy 
of its load of freezing water 
to the storrn : s, the air was 
rammed up this chimney to 
exhaust some ten miles 
above the sea in a vast 
shield of frozen cirrus 
clouds. But in that powerful, 
rather simple, process, 
there seemed to be some- 
thing frail and unstable. Like 
the engines of Indy racers, 
hurricanes seemed always 
poised on the rim of mechan- 
ical failure. Perhaps, a few 
meteorologists dared think, 

that frailty was a handle shaped to the 
human hand— a way for us to tinker with 
tne enormous energies of the hurricane. 

Robert Simpson, a rangy physicist 
from Corpus Christi, Texas : was one of 
the first to see the possibilities. Work- 
ing as a tropical meteorologist and hur- 
ricane forecaster in New Orleans and 
the Caribbean, he'd followed the prog- 
ress of early cloud-seeding experiments 
in New England, where dropping silver 
iodide into stratiform clouds filled with 
supercooled water- — water chilled be- 
low freezing but still in liquid form- 
had permitted General Electric research- 
ers to carve a big "GE" in a winter 
cloud deck. Supercooled water waited 
only for a microscopic crystalline parti- 
cle — a nucleus — to freeze on before it 
turned to ice. Silver iodide provided the 
nuclei. "It was heralded all over the 
world as the birth of a new age of weath- 
er modification," Simpson recalls today. 

The people in power also began to 

think about hurricanes. During the 
1950s, the tropical Atlantic sent one ma- 
jor storm after another pinwheeling to- 
ward the United States. In just two 
years : six severe hurricanes — Carol, 
Edna, and Hazel in 1954, and Connie, 
Diane, and lone in 1955 — caused 
what would today be some $10 billion 
in damage and took some 400 lives 
from Georgia to New England. Its atten- 
tion grabbed, the government ordered 
the Weather Bureau to do something, 
and Simpson was given the task of cre- 
ating the National Hurricane Research 
Project, which began working from its 
Palm Beach, Florida, base in 1956. "I 
built in some experimental seeding," he 
says — "not to modify the storms, but 
just to see what would happen." 

At first, very little happened. The air- 
borne burner designed to produce a 
plume of silver-iodide-enriched smoke 
was hard to light in the hurricane. "We 
had several abortive missions in 1957," 

Simpson says. "It was all sub rosa. In 
1958, we got the instrument to light and 
seeded Daisy on two days." A small, 
strong storm, Daisy showed no detect- 
able effects. In fact, the researchers 
would have been able to see only the 
most obvious changes. Radars of the 
day could discern the spiral of rain- 
bands and define the eye, but nothing 
on the aircraft permitted realtime read- 
ings of the winds or the proportions of 
water and ice in the clouds. Simpson 
and his colleagues were, in a sense, the 
alchemists of meteorology, following in- 
stinct and intuition more than the well- 
defined track of a mature science. 

In 1959, Simpson returned to the Uni- 
versity of Chicago to finish his Ph.D., 
which had been interrupted by the war, 
and there he experienced the epipha- 
ny that shaped all subsequent attempts 
to modify hurricanes. "My friend and dis- 
sertation adviser was Herbert Riehl," he 
says now. "On his own, Riehl came 


Whenever a hurricane like Andrew savages an American community, 
ideas pour in for hitting back at the devastating storms, Some 

offer recipes for homemade bombs 
or, most often, ask why hurricanes 
can't be handled like a certain mater- 
nal alien and nuked from orbit. Oth- 
ers wonder why the superb accura- 
cies of smart weapons in Desert 
Storm can't be applied to knocking 
out hurricanes. Radioactivity aside, 
the violent energies of these great 
storms make anything humans can 
hand out trivial in the extreme. 

Hurricane Andrew, for example, 
generated the equivalent energy of a 
ten-megaton bomb continuously dur- 
ing its passage — not for a split sec- 
ond, as in a bomb explosion, but all 
the time, for days. According to one 
hurricane researcher, such enormous 
energy represents a large fraction of 
global energy consumption. Would 
such a powerhouse even feel a 
nuke? Probably not. 

More tempting suggestions involve 
tinkering with the heat-engine side of 
the hurricane, either by chilling its 
warm core — some propose bombing 
the eye with iiquid-nitrogen bombs, oth- 
ers with tons of dry ice— or altering 

the temperatures of the warm ocean 
from which hurricanes draw their 
vast energy. Laying down a sheet of 
carbon black or impermeable mono- 
molecular film, according to some sci- 
entists, might retard evaporation — 
the mechanism by which the storms 
suck heat from the sea — to weaken 
the winds. Of course, such schemes 
also pose problems of cleaning up. 
A one-molecule-thick film tough 
enough to hold together under hur- 
ricane conditions might not be easy 
to get rid of once the storm is past. 

Alternative proposals look at ways 
to bring the colder waters at depth up 
to the surface, again in an effort to 
make the hurricane chill out. This 
kind of attempt would seed the ocean 
ahead of the advancing storm with 
such devices as wind-driven under- 
water corkscrews and bubble gener- 
ators that would force cold water to 
well upward. 

These ideas have merit but still un- 
derestimate the size of the storms. A 
major hurricane might be ten miles 
high with a core some 50 miles 

across, wound with rainbands going 
out more than 100 miles. To make a 
difference, dropping coolants in 
from the top would require thousands 
of aerial tankers. Changing water tem- 
peratures ahead of the storm would 
likewise require millions of expenda- 
ble devices; deploying them would 
be a daunting task, to say the least, 
and very expensive. 

Thus far, there is still no human tech- 
nology known that can counterpunch 
with hurricanes— the volume and ener- 
gies of the storms are just too much 
for us. As scientist Hugh Willoughby 
puts it, "At the energies of interstel- 
lar flight, direct intervention becomes 
possible." But he also sees a ray of 
sunshine— a literal one. Eventually, he 
believes, humankind will have to go 
to space for its energy, perhaps us- 
■ ing vast mirrors to collect solar ener- 
gy and beam it, in the form of micro- 
wave radio waves, to the surface. 
Such mirrors, he muses, might be 
used to shoot a blast of solar radia- 
tion into the heart of a hurricane as it 
forms, defusing it at birth. 

down to Norfolk and asked the Navy to 

fly him through Donna," a 1960 hurri- 
cane. "So they took a jet and flew him 
back and forth over the top of Donna 
as she approached Florida. He took pic- 
tures— pictures of what the radar saw. 
Donna was a very steady storm. It had 
this chimney in the right front quadrant. 
Riehl said the effluent from this chim- 
ney created the entire cirrus shield over 
the storm. He came back all excited. 
We got together. I said, 'Did you get any 
icing?' He said that every time they 
went through the front quadrant, the 
plane got ice all over it.' : No one cried 
eureka, but a hypothesis was born. 

Simpson had been looking for some 
trigger, some trick, with which to take 
advantage of what he regarded as the 
storm's inherent instability. The pres- 
ence of supercooled water offered one. 
Water gives off enormous quantities of 
stored : or latent, heat when it changes 
phase from liquid to ice. If by seeding 
you could coax the supercooled water 
to freeze, you'd release huge quantities 
of heat into the heart of the hurricane— 

perhaps enough to make a difference. 
"I developed the hypothesis that you'd 
release more heat," Simpson explains, 
"and change the surface pressure gra- 
dient that controlled the flow of wind." 
Because the pressure drop would not be 
so steep, surface winds would not coil 
quite so tightly around the center of low 
pressure; the built-in instability of the 
storm would then cause the eye wall to 
wander outward, reforming at a greater 
radius from the center. And, like a whirl- 
ing Sonja Henie sticking out her arms, 
the hurricane's winds would drop. 

Back in Palm Beach, Simpson soon 
tried his hypothesis in the field. On Sep- 
tember 16, 1961, a mixed squadron of 
Navy and Weather Bureau aircraft con- 
verged on hurricane Esther and 
dropped eight silver-iodide canisters in- 
to clouds around the eye— the annulus 
of towering clouds called the eye wall. 
Esther, which had been intensifying, lev- 
eled off, and the winds near the eye 
wall weakened significantly. The next 
day, the planes tried again, but this 
time the canisters missed the eye wall 

and no changes were observed. No ci- 
gar, perhaps, but on the whole, an 
encouraging start. In fact, Esther's 
behavior was encouraging enough for 
hurricane modification to move into the 
light. In 1962, the U.S. Navy and De- 
partment of Commerce established Proj- 
ect Stormfury — and Simpson's idea hard- 
ened into the Stormfury Hypothesis. 

By now, however, cloud seeding had 
acquired some scientific trappings — it 
was more than just the introduction of 
a seeding agent like silver iodide. A tech- 
nique called "dynamic seeding" had 
emerged, in which seeders sought to 
alter the very structure and wind flow 
in cumulus clouds. By causing super- 
cooled water to freeze and release la- 
tent heat into the cloud, they could 
force the cumuli to grow, drawing in- 
creased quantities of surface air in at 
the cloud bases and exhaling greater 
quantities of frozen effluent at high alti- 
tudes. Simpson and his wife Joanne, an 
experimental meteorologist, incorporat- 
ed dynamic seeding into Stormfury: 
Seeding, they postulated, would 


Some hurricane seasons are more ecfual than 
tracks of severe Atlantic hurricanes — those wi 

110 miles per hour— from the end of 
World War II through 1969, the year 
that gave Stormfury Debbie to seed, 
is a tangle of destructive strands. 
From 1970 through much of the 
1980s, only one severe hurricane was 
observed- Now, meteorologists be- 
lieve, storm activity may be edging 
back toward a reprise of the destruc- 
tive 1940s and 1950s, with the differ- 
ence being that the empty marshes 
of half a century ago are now dense- 
ly populated coastal communities 
like south Dade County. The poten- 
tial damage is incalculable. 

No one can say for sure that hurri- 
canes are actually on the increase. To 
some scientists, the rise and fall in the 
incidence of destructive storms is 
merely a random flexing of the con- 
ditions over the tropical Atlantic that 
spawn hurricanes. Other observers, 
however, see an ominously predict- 
able cycle of activity linked to forces 
somewhere else. 

To many meteorologists, "some- 
where else" is western Africa. Dec- 
ades of watching the seeds of hurri- 
canes flow westward from that conti- 
nent and blossom into hurricanes 
over the warm ocean have led ex- 
perts to look for connections between 
Africa and the frequency of hurri- 
canes, but the actual mechanism has 
proved elusive. Some have postulat- 
ed that African dust in the trade 
winds suppresses the formation of hur- 
ricanes by blocking solar radiation; oth- 
ers suggest that the grains seed the 
moist tropical atmosphere, abetting 
the growth of young storms. 

According to William Gray, a mete- 
orology professor at Colorado State 
University, the key factor appears to 
be the amount of rainfall in west Afri- 
ca. The years of frequent severe At- 
lantic hurricanes coincided with 
years of abundant rainfall over west 
Africa. The continental storms that pro- 
duced the heavy rains,, in Gray's 

others. A map of the 
th winds greater than 

view, may have set up conditions in 
the easterly trade winds that fostered 
the formation of hurricanes. Converse- 
ly, the hurricane famine that lasted 
from 1970 through 1987 coincided 
with a relentless drought in western 
Africa— a stormless interval that sent 
no hurricane-spawning pulses out 
over the Atlantic. 

Now, Gray reports, the African 
drought shows signs of ending. If it 
is, and if Gray's correlation is true, the 
American side of the Atlantic is in for 
it. There are already ominous signs of 
an increase. Gray notes that there 
have been ten severe hurricanes 
since 1987: Gilbert, Helene, and 
Joan in 1988; Gabrielle and Hugo in 
1989; Gustav in 1990; Bob and Claud- 
ettein 1991; Andrew in 1992; and Emi- 
ly in 1 993. While Gray acknowledges 
that the signal remains far from 
clear, that violent cohort of storms 
may be the harbinger of hurricane sea- 
sons to come. 




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cause the inner rainband clouds to 
grow at the expense of clouds forming 
the eye wall, creating a new eye wall 
with a larger diameter and a concomi- 
tant reduction in maximum winds. 

Like all experiments conducted in a 
natural laboratory, nothing about Storm- 
fury was easy. The storms had to be with- 
in range of the research planes but pre- 
dicted not to touch any populated is- 
land or coast for at least 24 hours after 
seeding. The 1962 season brought no 
candidates. The next summer, after ob- 
taining strongly positive results in cumu- 
lus seeding runs, Stormfury turned to hur- 
ricane Beulah, which had steamed in- 
to range. On August 23, the ill-formed 
storm was still a marginal candidate for 
modification, and the seeding material 
fell short of the eye wall's cloud turrets. 
Nothing happened. 

The next day, however, the storm 
had intensified and formed a well-de- 
veloped eye. This time, the seeding can- 
isters were on the mark. The original 
eye wall disintegrated, and a new, broad- 
er eye wall replaced it. And, as predict- 
ed, the maximum winds decreased by 
about 14 percent and moved farther 
from the center of the storm. 

Nature not only abhors a vacuum, 
but she is more than a little testy about 
success in trying to tame her. In 1964, 
the Stormfury airplanes were kept 
down because their instrumentation 
wasn't ready. The next year, the planes 
flew into hurricane Betsy, which was too 
close to land to seed. Elena, a second 
1965. candidate, tiptoed just out of 
range. In 1966, Faith sidestepped to- 
ward the northeast, short of the seed- 
ing area. No hurricanes offered them- 
selves during the rather fallow 1967 and 
1968 seasons. In almost a decade, Storm- 
fury had "treated" only one storm. 

And then along came Debbie. 

On August 18, 1969, thirteen Storm- 
fury aircraft staging out of Puerto Rico 
seeded the hurricane, using Navy A-6 
intruders to drop hundreds of silver- 
iodide-producing pyrotechnics along a 
line through the eye' wall. Debbie's 
winds dropped 31 percent after seed- 
ing. A couple of days later, with the 
storm once more spooled up to its orig- 
inal strength, a second seeding run was 
followed by a 15-percent reduction in 
maximum winds. Curiously, while mas- 
sive resources worked the cooperative 
Debbie, hurricane Camille — one of the 
most intense storms ever to strike the 
United States— was taking aim at the Mis- 
sissippi Gulf coast. 

Anxious to replicate their success 
with Debbie, the Stormfury team wait- 
ed for a second opportunity. But, again, 
nature intervened. No candidate ap- 
peared in 1970. The only eligible 

storm in 1 971 was Ginger, a poor thing 
of a late-season hurricane, ill formed 
and diffuse; predictably, the ensuing 
desperate seeding of Ginger did noth- 
ing to the storm but cast a pall on the 
experiment. During the 1972 season, hur- 
ricanes stayed out of reach of the air- 
planes. Although no one knew it, Storm- 
fury was over. 

"We entered a period when the hur- 
ricane tracks we needed just didn't ma- 
terialize," recalls Peter Black, a hurri- 
cane researcher with the National Oce- 
anic and Atmospheric Administration in 
Miami, He'd been present more or less 
at the creation and had shared the 
high good feelings after Debbie. But 
those feelings soon began to fray. 
"Each year, permissions from Caribbe- 
an countries became more difficult to 
obtain — Cuba, Mexico. The State Depart- 
ment made our guidelines tighter. Final- 
ly, we had only a narrow zone north of 
Puerto Rico and twenty-four hours to 
landfall, then thirty-six hours." The 
rules of the Stormfury game changed 
yearly, each change placing storms a 
little bit farther out of reach. "When I 
was first there," Black says, "there was 
always this idealistic attitude. We were 
going to do something significant— a mis- 
sion to help the quality of life. That's 
seen as a fantasy now." 

Project Stormfury lived on for anoth- 
er decade, however, fueled by the Deb- 
bie results— and tainted by the impotent 
try with Ginger. In the early 1970s, the 
Navy pulled out of its Stormfury partner- 
ship, and the Weather Bureau— now 
NOAA — aircraft began to wheeze. Un- 
til then, Stormfury had flown in DC-6s, 
topped by a high-flying B-57 jet bomb- 
er; the Navy had contributed its WC- 
121 Super Constellation hurricane hunt- 
ers and the A-6 seeders. Without the flo- 
tilla of Navy planes, researchers had 
either to abandon Stormfury— and the 
promising start with Debbie — or give it 
a new shape that matched reality. The 
government chose to go with the exper- 
iment. Two specially built WP-3D Orion 
aircraft were purchased for about $10 
million each, and the tempo began to 
build in NOAA's hurricane research. Plan- 
ners began looking for the natural lab- 
oratories offered by other oceans — the 
frequent hurricanes that spin up the 
coast west of Mexico, away from peo- 
ple; the huge, intense typhoons of the 
western Pacific that occur, from an ex- 
perimental standpoint, at least, with 
heartening frequency. 

"They couldn't find an ocean that 
would have them," says Stanley Rosen- 
thal, recently retired former director of 
NOAA's hurricane research lab in Mi- 
ami. The problem of liability switched off 
interest among politicians in Australia 

and at home as well: Towns might sue 

you for seeding — or for not seeding, if 
you knew it would help — a storm on its 
way to trash thern. "The Japanese 
killed any hope of taking the experiment 
to the Pacific. They had political rea- 
sons: No country wanted to be hit by 
storms that were made in the USA. 
The eastern Pacific was scotched by 
the Mexicans. We tried to see what we 
could do in the Atlantic." Rosenthal had 
inherited Stormfury and dutifully pur- 
sued it. "I was not an enthusiastic sup- 
porter, not a true believer in weather 
modification, and never became one," 
he says now. 

Constrained to a small trapezoid of 
open ocean north of Puerto Rico, the 
Stormfury squadron — now two NOAA 
WP-3Ds; a NOAA C-130; a borrowed 
Air Force C-130; and NASA's Convair 
990, Galileo //—waited for an alert 
each year through the last half of the 
1970s. It never came. "My thoughts 
were to go all out, make every effort to 
seed a few storms," says Rosenthal, 

"show that there wasn't a r 

great deal in the idea. It nev- 
er occurred to me that politi- 
cians could get ahead of 
me." But they did. "Politics 
took over. The cuts were in 
the Carter budget." includ- 
ing the aircraft, Stormfury 
had cost about $30 million in 
all — roughly the price of two 
space toilet prototypes. 

In 1981, hurricane Floyd 
and hurricane Harvey 

pranced through the Storm- 

fury area, as did another Deb- 
bie, a marginal target, in 1982. in 1989, 
Gabrielle and perhaps Dean were eli- 
gible, as was Gustaf in 1990. But, from 
1980 onward, there were no Stormfury 
planes waiting to seed them. 

Although the new aircraft were not 
seeding, these remarkable flying labo- 
ratories still probed each season's 
storms, taking into the swirling maw of 
the hurricane all the tools that Bob 
Simpson never had. Knollenberg imag- 
ing probes permitted scientists to tell liq- 
uid water from ice. New cloud-physics 
gear let them measure drop sizes and 
the distribution of nuclei. Digital — and, 
later, Doppler — radars could monitor 
three-dimensional wind fields inside the 
storms, giving researchers their first de- 
tailed look at the hurricane's interior struc- 
ture. On-board computer workstations 
allowed realtime analysis of what the sen- 
sors picked up from the roaring gales 
outside. And the WP-3Ds, these star- 
ships of atmospheric research, pos- 
sessed bone-rattling endurance: They 
could spend ten hours or more buzz- 
ing around inside a hurricane. 

46 OMNI 

Forthe first time, measurements tak- 
en in hurricanes were not points of da- 
ta along a hurried line through the 
storm; they were consecutive data tak- 
en by a continuous relay of the two P- 
3s that for days could keep one air- 
plane always in the hurricane. Gradu- 
ally, the simple brute envisioned in the 
1960s became an atmospheric creature 
of stunning complexity and more; the 
aircraft showed that hurricanes, like 
everything else in the atmosphere, 
ultimately descend into the magnificent 
disorder known as chaos. 

"About 1977 : " Black recalls, "we be- 
gan getting a few measurements." The 
weakening process Stormfury wished to 
induce, the scientists began to realize, 
happened quite naturally. "In the 1960s, 
we thought the air came in, up, and out. 
We didn't appreciate the impact of en- 
vironmental flow. Mother Nature sneez- 
es a thousand miles away and the 
storm changes. Sea-surface tempera- 
ture alters the storm's track and inten- 
sity." Hardly anything about hurricanes 






was what it had once seemed. 

Nothing was less so, however, than 
the eye wall — the central cylinder of tow- 
ering clouds and maximum winds, 
which is really what a hurricane is all 
about. It once seemed to be a straightfor- 
ward chimneylike apparatus for suck- 
ing heat from moist air as it rises, spew- 
ing it out at high altitudes. In fact, the 
eye wall is more like the revolving 
breech of a colossally complicated six- 
shooter, in which each chamber may 
contain a powerful round of updrafts 
and supercooled water — or a dud of de- 
scending, glaciated air. 

"The center of circulation is offset," 
explains Black — "asymmetric." And 
this asymmetry, hurricane researchers 
now believe, is important to the way the 
storms move and intensify. These tilted 
convective turrets — the live rounds of up- 
drafts in the revolving breech — are short- 
lived, lasting only 10 to 20 minutes. 
They are matched by regions of what 
Black calls forced descent caused by 
factors outside the storm. In. Andrew, he 
says, the updraft turrets and areas of 

forced descent slowly rotated around 

the center of low pressure at about 50 
miles an hour, embedded in the eye 
wall clouds. 

Critics of the Stormfury hypothesis, 
like hurricane researcher Hugh Wil- 
loughby, believe there isn't enough su- 
percooled water even in the updraft 
chambers to make much difference. "If 
water is freezing anyway, what are you 
changing?" he asks. "If we were all- 
knowing, perhaps we could say yes, 
this is being caused by seeding. I can 
think of no way to collect data to tell you 
whether you've done that. You might be 
able to intervene and provoke some- 
thing ... but you'd never know." 

Not surprisingly, Bob Simpson dif- 
fers. "The bone of contention is not 
whether there is a way to modify hurri- 
canes if you have supercooled water in 
ihem. The question is, do you have 
enough supercooled water to make a 
difference?" Just back from a 1 993 ex- 
periment in the Coral Sea, where he 
had a chance to look for supercooled 

water in a Pacific storm 

called Oliver, Simpson says, 
"With more sensitive instru- 
ments, we found much liquid 
water at below -40 degrees. 
You can't take bits and piec- 
es and put them together* 
and draw conclusions." Re- 
ferring to Willoughby's objec- 
tions, he says, "They didn't 
look for liquid water where 
we'd expect to find it. Our 
experience has shown that 
abundance of liquid water 
was only in the eye wall itself. 
Only where you had the convective maxi- 
mum did water have trouble freezing. 
Now it's debatable whether seeding in 
the eye wall is a viable hypothesis; 
that's still subject to argument." 

FJut the presence or absence of su- 
percooled water at seeding altitudes— 
from about 20,000 to about 30,000 
feet — is not easy to verify. The heavily 
loaded P-3s must labor mightily to get 
up above the freezing level in hurri- 
canes — something over 20,000 feet — 
untii late in their mission, when they've 
burned off much of their fuel. It's a bad 
level for flying. 'There's a lot of light- 
ning," Willoughby says. "You get hit a 
lot. You become a flying hailstone." And 
de-icers, he adds, take a lot of energy 
from the engines. Because icing makes 
this stratum dangerous flying, nothing 
like a systematic inventory of supercooled 
water there has been made. 

As Stormfury foundered at the end of 
the 1970s, starved of storms and per- 
haps of supercooled water, nature 
played another prank. Flights into 
1980's hurricane Allen while it spun 

across the Gulf of Mexico revealed pre- 
cisely the kind of wind variations that 
Stormfury scientists had measured in 
Debbie after seeding. The intended ef- 
fect of seeding, it was suddenly appar- 
ent, happened all the time, naturally. In 
a kind of respiration, the eye expands 
outward and maximum winds diminish; 
then the eye tightens and winds rise. 
Moreover, hurricanes evidently sprout 
concentric eye walls all the time — 
1969's Camille had two, for example. 
Again, the desired effect of seeding 
was seen to be a frequent feature of un- 
seeded storms. 

Such news meant different things to 
different scientists, depending on wheth- 
er they were Stormfury believers or in- 
fidels. To the latter, the results from Al- 
len proved that the changes seen in a 
seeded Debbie — and in the earlier 
storms as well — were merely an illusion 
of human intervention, a natural coin- 
cidence. To believers, the evidence 
points just the other way. The variations 
seen in Allen show that the structural 
changes Stormfury hoped to achieve 
are inherent in hurricane behavior — 
ready, as Simpson postulated, to be trig- 
gered by some human agent. 

Robert Sheets, director of the Nation- 
al Hurricane Center in Coral Gables, Flor- 
ida, directed Stormfury during the 

1970s and until its demise early in the 
1980s. A scientist who has spent a 
long research career flying around in- 
side hurricanes, Sheets remains a true 
believer. "I was converted by the Deb- 
bie results;' he says. He himself ana- 
lyzed the data, and it convinced him 
that the hypothesis is correct. "What we 
can't verify is that we caused the 
change," he says. "The magnitude of 
the system sort of overwhelms what can 
and cannot be done." Sheets has 
worked with hurricanes since 1965, 
when he joined the hurricane lab. 
"There's no question that there's super- 
cooled water," he says. "Airplanes get 
covered with ice, but it seems to occur 
in limited areas. Tremendous updrafts 
in nature are also seeding the storm per- 
haps." He adds, "There's still the ques- 
tion of whether there is enough super- 
cooled water that can be utilized to mod- 
ify the storm. Some say eye wall fluctu- 
ations show seeding does no good. To 
me, that says the hypothesis is correct." 
To believers, those pulsations, the al- 
ternate filling and deepening, dwindling 
and revving up, of the eye wall are a 
modern corollary to the frailty inferred 
by Robert Simpson nearly half a cen- 
tury ago. Those natural oscillations of 
the eye wall may be the wished-for han- 
dle shaped for the human hand — "if 

one could inhibit that cycle when it re- 
formed an eye at its larger size," spec- 
ulates Peter Black. He grins: "But this 
isn't even hypothesized — no hallway con- 
versation or even bad jokes." 

In normal times, there the matter 
would rest. But while such storms as 
Hugo and Andrew spin landward from 
the tropical sea, causing the hardships 
of a war along American coasts, some 
scientists have begun to see a cyclic 
increase in the incidence of severe hur- 
ricanes. The dearth of storms that 
helped throttle Project Stormfury may 
soon be replaced by a flurry of them 
(see "Out of Africa," page 42). But the 
search for a technology that might 
have mitigated their terrible winds was 
abandoned more than a decade ago. 
"An unfinished symphony in a sense," 
reflects Stan Rosenthal. "Stormfury was 
premature. A lot of the things that were 
being done in weather modification 
were being done without proper tools. 
We go into the next century with Dop- 
pler radars, atmospheric profilers. We're 
just now getting the tools in hand." 

Yet no one today believes those mod- 
ern tools will be used to blunt the fury 
of the hurricane. As things stand now, 
what nature sends spinning from the 
warm sea, we must meekly accept — 
as always. DO 


has more friction-reducing lubricants than ever to 
protect you from nicks and cuts better than foams. 
For a closer, smoother shave, it's just in the nick of time. 




A man was talking 
on a telephone 
near Gainesville, 
Florida, when 
lightning hit the 
wires. He died 
instantly— eleclro- 


ur people die 

," says Martin 
man, director 
of the University 

lightning Research 
man is showing 

:eum of lightning 

If is the shal- 



death telephone. 
"Besides people 
who get hilled 
every year when 
lightning hits 
nearby telephone 
wires, hundreds 
more get their 


eardrums damaged," says 
Uman, a genial electrical 
engineer. Uman's intonations 
sound like Jimmy Stewart's, 
but his subject is pure Vincent 
Price. He hoids up a twisted 
radio antenna. "A lifeguard 
was killed under this little guy," 
he says. He points to a blue 
research rocket that was used 
at Kennedy Space Center to 
trigger lightning. Its fuselage is 
melted and bubbled. He picks 
up what seems to be a fos- 
silized condom. It's a fulgurite, 
created when lightning melts a 
tunnel in sand, which hardens 
again into a permanent artifact 
of the strike. 

This minimuseum sends a 
message: Clouds bite. To 
prove it, Uman holds up a steel 
plate through which lightning 
burned a half-dollar-sized hole. 
But collecting such curios is 
just for kicks. The Lightning 
Lab's real business is study- 
ing the physics of thunder- 
bolts. It isn't ivory-tower work; 
today's high-tech society— 
ever more dependent on elec- 
tronic gear— is increasingly 
vulnerable to lightning hits. 

And there are a lot of hits. 
At any moment,, planetwide, 
about 2,000 thunderstorms are 
in progress. Each storm gener- 
ates a flash every 20 seconds. 
In the time it takes to read this 
sentence, lightning has flashed 
more than 500 times. 

Most of the lightning flashes 
we see are cloud-to-ground 
strokes, but they comprise only 
about 20 percent of lightning. 
Much more frequent are 
flashes within clouds. Light- 
ning also flashes between 
clouds, or a bolt may shoot' up 
from a cloud into the ether. 
Dust spewed by volcanoes 
can trigger lightning flashes, 
and so can sandstorms and 
nuclear blasts. Even snow- 
storms can generate lightning 
and thunder. 

Researchers know that most 
cloud-to-ground lightning is 

52 OMNI 

digitally enhanced 
image of a summer 
lightning storm 
over Tucson, Arizona 
(opening spread); 
backyard demonstra- 
tion o( a Tesla 
coil By Bill Wysock 
(previous page 
inset); lightning Hash 
illuminates a water 
spout over Lake 
Okeechobee, Florida 

regularly during 
Arizona summers 
(above left) 
due to moist air that 
flows in from the 
Gulf of California, 
collides with the 
nearby mountains, 
and is forced 
upward, where it 
condenses into 
fulgurite — a rootlike 

object farmed when 
a superheated 
lightning channel 
fuses rock or 
sand Into a glassy 
tube (middle 
left); Martin Uman 
(far left) displays 
artifacts from his 
museum of lightning 
, including a 
ch rocket and 
a telephone pole 
split by lightning; in 

Sakurajima (top); 
digitally enhanced 
Image at a T-28 
armor-plated air- 
plane used to 
fly through thunder- 
storms (above); 
lightning strike 
at Cane Canaveral, 
Florida (left). 

negatively charged, but a 
small percentage of strokes 
are positive. And, rather than 
starting in a cloud, some 
strokes run in reverse, starting 
from a skyscraper or tower and 
shooting up to a thundercloud. 

Lightning takes other forms, 
too, like seemingly thunderiess 
"heat" lightning. Actually, the 
lightning is so far away (more 
than 25 kilometers) that the 
sound waves dissipate before 
reaching your ears. Thunder 
may be the one aspect 
of lightning's physics that 
scientists believe they have 
definitely pinned down — but 
it's been a long haul. Rome's 
Lucretius said thunder was 
the sound of clouds bang- 
ing together. Early-twentieth- 
century scientists also got it 
wrong; they theorized that 
lightning created a vacuum 
along its path and that air 
rushed in with a -thunderous 
rumble. But scientists now 
know that a lightning stroke 
instantly heats the air around it 
to searing temperatures. The 
superheated air expands 
explosively. In the process, it 
generates the sound waves we 
hear as thunder. 

Scientists also have figured 
out such freaky phenomena as 
ribbon lightning, which looks 
like a broad stream of fire. 
It's actually a succession of 
strokes, each blown a bit to the 
side of the previous stroke by 
wind but striking so fast that 
we see all the strokes at once 
as a ribbonlike flash. Lightning 
comes in other variations, too. 
Sheet lightning, for instance, 
sets a cloud glowing like a 
fluorescent tube. Bead light- 
ning breaks up before your 
eyes into a beadlike chain 
across the sky. And lightning 
can be triggered artificially — 
most bolts that hit airplanes 
are now known to be induced 
by the aircraft itself. 

Much about lightning, how- 
ever, remains elusive. For in- 


stance, intracloud flashes — the most 
frequent — are so hard to see and study 
that their dynamics are still largely un- 
probed, and scientists are still unsure 
of even some basic cloud-to-ground 
mechanisms, such as exactly how light- 
ning makes contact with the ground. 
Probably the biggest mystery is ball light- 
ning, an orange-sized globe of electric- 
ity that floats like a ghost. Nevertheless, 
most scientific attention focuses on reg- 
ular lightning, which plagues us with 
everything from airplane crashes to pow- 
er blackouts. Researchers have yet to 
tweak out most of its secrets. 

Serious lightning studies began with 
Aristotle, who got off on the wrong 
foot; he said lightning was burning 
wind. Even that was a step up from the 
standard fourth-century-B.c. notion of a 
bad-tempered deity hurling celestial jave- 
lins. As late as the 1700s, people tried 
to disperse lightning by ringing church 
bells, which often were inscribed Fulgu- 
ra frango, meaning, "I break the light- 
ning." Unfortunately, some of the bell 
ringers were electrocuted in 
the process. Not until 1752 
did Ben Franklin fly a kite in 
a storm, nearly barbecuing a 
Founding Father. He verified 
that lightning is electrical, the 
big brother of the sparks we 
generate when we shuffle 
across a rug and reach for a 

Martin Uman says modern 
lightning research began in 
the early 1 900s, when British 
Nobelist C. J. R. Wilson meas- 
ured the electrical charge in 
lightning storms. Wilson theorized that 
lightning is triggered when clouds be- 
come electrically charged, positive on 
top, negative on bottom; ever since, sci- 
entists and meteorologists have been 
testing Wilson's theory. They use cam- 
eras to snap a lightning flash's multiple 
strokes. They point antennas at thun- 
derstorms to sample electric fields and 
radio waves. They send unmanned rock- 
ets and instrument-packed research 
planes into lightning storms, hoping to 
get hit. They even monitor the acous- 
tics of thunder to eke out data on the 
lightning that produced it. One result is 
that Wilson's theory has been verified: 
The typical lightning-producing cloud is 
indeed positively charged on top, neg- 
atively charged lower down. 

But scientists are still arguing over 
just how clouds become electrically 
charged, and the overall lightning igno- 
rance gap is increasingly urgent. For 
one thing, lightning is far more frequent 
than most of us realize. Lightning flash- 
es even more frequently inside clouds, 
and our society — increasingly electron- 

54 OMNI 

ic — is ever more vulnerable to these at- 
mospheric outbursts. 

Lightning can sizzle electric lines, 
and today's proliferating chip-driven de- 
vices are particularly sensitive to light- 
ning. In airliners, for instance, hydrau- 
lic controls are giving way to the elec- 
tronic cockpit. Even tiny currents from 
a lightning hit could set computerized 
instrument panels buzzing — a spooky 
thought when you consider that every 
airliner averages two lightning hits a 
year. Usually the only effect is a pitted 
fuselage; however, Oman displays his 
"friendly skies" photograph showing an 
airliner with a burned-off nose, one ex- 
ample of what lightning can do. In 
1 963, a bolt hit a Boeing 707 and blew 
up the fuel tank in one of its wings. "The 
FAA and the airlines will avoid blaming 
lightning whenever they can," says 
Uman. "None of them wants it to be light- 
ning because they don't want to be 
blamed for not installing additional 
heavy protection devices, but a fraction 
of wind-shear and other accidents are 






really caused by lightning." 

Meanwhile, aluminum fuselages are 
giving way to lightweight composites. 
Metal fuselages are good conductors 
because lightning runs through the air- 
plane's skin, not its vital organs. Com- 
posites, however, are poor conductors, 
putting a plane's innards at risk. Engi- 
neers expect to finesse the problem by 
running metal strips through the com- 
posites. With that protection, tomorrow's 
synthetic-skin airliners should be able 
to fly through electrical storms without 
broiling like winged sausages. 

Even so, experts like Uman acknowl- 
edge that much of their understanding 
of lightning is still tentative. One reason 
is that truly modern lightning studies are 
relatively recent, having begun with NA- 
SA's lunar program. "Apollo 72was the 
start of a lot of funding for lightning re- 
search," Uman says. 

One minute after Apollo 12 lifted off 
on November 14, 1969, it was roaring 
through clouds at 6,000 feet. Launch 
controllers were complacent because 
the clouds hadn't been producing light- 

ning, and it had generally been as- 
sumed that when a rocket or aircraft 
was hit by lightning, it had simply got- 
ten in the way of an oncoming bolt. Re- 
searchers studying the Apollo 12 inci- 
dent, however, discovered later that the 
360-foot rocket had triggered lightning. 
A bolt hit it. Seconds later, at 13,000 
feet, it was hit again. Fuel cells powering 
the command module temporarily dis- 
connected; so did the inertial guidance 
system. Instruments measuring the rock- 
et's skin temperature and its fuel levels 
blew, Luckily, the astronauts were able 
to reset the equipment and continue on 
to the moon. Why did the discovery 
that airborne vehicles could trigger light- 
ning come so late? "Failure to recog- 
nize the obvious, not uncommon in the 
history of science," says Uman. 

NASA's newfound respect for light- 
ning notched upward again in March 
1987. An unmanned Atlas-Centaur rock- 
et whooshing up from Kennedy Space 
Center with a $160-million communica- 
tions satellite aboard triggered a light- 
ning hit. The currents scram- 
bled the rocket's electronics 
and sent it tumbling. Air 
Force range safety manag- 
ers on the ground had to 
blow it up. 

Then, in June 1987, at NA- 
SA's Wallops Island, Virgin- 
ia, facility, lightning sizzled 
down and ignited three un- 
manned rockets sitting on 
their launch pads. Two 
roared off into the ozone and 
the third slithered along the 
ground into the sea. 
Such mishaps got NASA's attention. 
Besides, Florida — space-launch head- 
quarters—has more lightning than any 
other state. Humid breezes blowing in 
from the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico 
make Florida the nation's stormiest 
state, with thunderstorms billowing up 
almost 100 days every year. After the 
Apollo 12 launch, Kennedy Space 
Center became a major site for lightning 
studies. Scientists converged at Ken- 
nedy to study lightning physics, such 
as the currents in the strokes and the 
surrounding electromagnetic fields. 
They also developed new lightning- 
detection systems, which are now op- 
erational at Kennedy. Some are in com- 
mercial service, available to anyone; oth- 
ers are still experimental. 

Another subject of scrutiny is trig- 
gered lightning — the kind that nearly 
wiped out Apollo 12. The aim is to pro- 
vide mission controllers with data on 
when to go ahead with a launch and 
when to scrub it. Researchers have 
sent up hundreds of test rockets trail- 
ing wires, trying to determine the atmos- 

pheric conditions in which aircraft and 
rockets trigger flashes. They found, for 
instance, that a rocket is more apt to 
trigger lightning when a thunderstorm 
is relatively inactive or in its death 
throes, seemingly electrically drained. 

NASA's needs are not the only rea- 
sons for launching test rockets into thun- 
derstorms. Much of what modern sci- 
entists have learned about lightning has 
come from scrutinizing artificially in- 
duced lightning. Scientists can trigger 
lightning with a wire-trailing rocket, mak- 
ing ersatz lightning much easier to 
study than Mother Nature's own. But nat- 
ural and artificial lightning aren't nec- 
essarily identical. For instance, natural 
lightning flows down an ionized chan- 
nel in the atmosphere — in effect, the air 
becomes a phantom wire. Rocket-trig- 
gered lightning flows down the rocket's 
trailing wire in its bottom portion, vapor- 
izing it in the process. But, Uman says, 
the ionized channel of a rocket-trig- 
gered lightning stroke has primarily sim- 
ilar electrical characteristics to that of 
a natural lightning channel. 

Besides launching rockets into 
storms to compare triggered and natu- 
ral lightning, scientists have probed light- 
ning by taking photographs of strikes, 
and their ticking instruments have record- 
ed boxfuls of data — much still unexam- 

ined — on lightning's electrical and mag- 
netic fields, its radio signals. 

"For fifteen years at Kennedy, the Uni- 
versity of Florida research was housed 
in a semitrailer with antennas and cam- 
era ports," says Uman. "Then NASA ded- 
icated a building to lightning research- 
ers." The research paid off. As a result 
of what they learned in the Kennedy stud- 
ies, scientists have gotten better at pre- 
dicting and detecting lightning. Ken- 
nedy is now dotted with antennas that 
measure atmospheric electrical fields. 
Controllers draw on that data when de- 
ciding whether to go ahead with a 
launch. Recently, for instance, the shut- 
tle Endeavor sat on Pad 39B at Ken- 
nedy — in its bay a tracking and data- 
relay satellite. The countdown was on 
hold for a weather check. 

Thousands of citizens had driven on- 
to the causeway south of the pad to 
watch the launch of mission STS-54, 
their license plates from as far away as 
Guam. Through binoculars, the spec- 
tators could see a lightning-protection 
mast sticking up from the launch pad's 
tower, but they couldn't see the launch- 
weather-team monitoring instruments 
matching the data against a go/no-go 

The checklist requires scrubbing a 
launch for a long list of lightning-relat- 

"Now that Washington named you the major polluter of the environment, 
fight back and get a government contract to clean It up. " 

ed reasons. For instance, if within 15 min- 
utes of the launch lightning flashes with- 
in ten nautical miles of the pad or flight 
path, it's no go. It's also no go if the rock- 
et will be passing through clouds more 
than 4,500 feet thick, where tempera- 
tures are between freezing and -4 de- 
grees Fahrenheit. 

While STS-54 sat on its pad, the con- 
trollers plodded through their list. 
Would the rocket pass through "an 
opaque cloud that's become detached 
from a thunderstorm?" If yes, it would 
be no go, as it would be for a flight 
path through cumulus clouds colder 
than 41 degrees Fahrenheit. The 
launch would be delayed if the rocket 
passed within five nautical miles of 
clouds with tops higher than the altitude 
at which temperatures drop to 14 de- 
grees Fahrenheit or if instruments meas- 
ured electric fields averaging 1,000 
volts per meter within five nautical 
miles of the pad. 

Because of such lightning criteria, 
about 45 percent of all summer after- 
noon or evening shuttle launches must 
be scratched. But mission STS-54 was 
lucky. The voice of Mission Control 
came over the loudspeakers: "We'll 
give Endeavor and her crew a chance 
to look at this weather from orbit- — let's 
proceed!" The shuttle silently flared in-' 
to the ionosphere, followed by its roar. 
No lightning. 

The warning system had worked 
again, but skeptics still worry. In 1992, 
money-short Kennedy Space Center 
abruptly canceled most of its lightning 
research. Some scientists fear they 
still know too little about lightning to guar- 
antee that today's go/no-go guidelines 
are sufficiently strict and that current de- 
tection systems are adequate. 

At lightning-research centers like the 
University of Florida, scientists contin- 
ue to probe Earth's amperes and volts, 
and Oman says cloud technicians re- 
fined a theory of how clouds become 
electrified that's now accepted by 
about 70 percent of the researchers. 

Instrumented aircraft that fly 
through thunderstorms, sniffing out 
plus and minus regions, have verified 
C. T R. Wilson's suggestion of 80 
years ago: A thunderhead is positive in 
its upper regions, negative lower 
down. Most researchers now explain 
that charge separation by citing wind- 
blown and gravity- driven ice particles 
that bump and rub, in the process los- 
ing or gaining electrons. 

Losing or gaining electrons leaves 
any atom electrically charged — an ion. 
When atoms lose electrons (which are 
negative), their positively charged pro- 
tons dominate and so they become pos- 
itive ions. When atoms gain electrons, 




Article By Valerie Govi 

"The sport is still very, very new. 
It has no teachers, no schools, no competitions." 

Drawing By Ori Holfmekler ' 


,: Wear a tight swimsuit," says Sue Taft. "You can get pulled 
out of it, and there's no going back!" She's talking about body 
surfing with a controllable kite, which anyone can do with 
no equipment investment other than a kite and a swimsuit. 

She and her friend Lee Sedgwick, both of Erie, Pennsyl- 
vania, will try any kind of ride behind a kite. With eight years 
of practice under their belts, they are the foremost experi- 
menters and leading enthusiasts in the 
sport and passion of kite propulsion, or trac- 
tion — which some people call wind sailing, 
worrying that the word fete will be misinter- 
preted as kids' stuff. Taft and Sedgwick en- 
joy all forms of the sport, but their favorite 
surface is ice, which gives the slickest 
ride. Winds? Ideally, 14 to 18 miles per 
hour, but the usable range is 5 to 50. 

So where would you expect to find 
them on a cold winter weekend but on 
deep-frozen Presque Isle Bay next to 
Lake Erie? And they aren't alone. "We usu- 
ally have ice on the bay from the middle 
of December through March," Taft says, 
"and eight to ten people join us about 
three out of every four weekends." Before- 
hand, the phone lines are hot along the net- 
work of enthusiasts keeping tabs on weath- 
er conditions. Presque Isle State Park, a 
peninsula that juts out into Lake Erie, en- 
circles a veritable ice rink in the winter and 
offers great summer sites too, including 
beaches and dunes in all directions and 
"the greatest sunsets in the world." 

Gary Counts, one of the best fliers in the 
group, is dancing on ice today He stops 
for a minute to crow about how great the 
winds are, letting him jump and turn in free- 
form mode. "You can do anything," 
Counts says. "There are so many ideas go- 
ing on in this sport" — combining kite and 
personal acrobatics, setting speed and dis- 
tance records, and synchronizing team 
shows to music. 

From the shore, the kite skiers make a 
peaceful scene as they glide back and 
forth across the bay. But out on the ice, 
the peaceful appearance vanishes. You 
can hear the challenge in the holler, "I'm 
going faster than you are!" While there's 
no formal racing in the sport yet, 
Sedgwick says that in two or three years 
the racing will come, "it will push the 
sport, and the number of enthusiasts will 
double," though he claims he's into fi- 
nesse, "into playing with kites." 

Play was not the idea when kite traction began about 4,000 
years ago. Then, it is said, kites purposefully pulled 
wheeled vehicles across the China plains. We know that 
kites propelled canOes in Samoa in the eighteenth century. 
But the prime ancestor of kite traction must be that crazy 
schoolteacher George Pocock of-Bristol, England, who in- 
vented the Char-Volant in 1825. The Char-Volant (from the 
French cerf-volant for kite and c/iarfor carriage) was a bug- 

60 OMNI 



Use appropriate equipment, 

including safety gear 

and a quick-release system. 


Maintain your equipment, 

especially your 

flying: lines and connections, 


Don't fly in rain or stormy 



Avoid all overhead wires. 


Beware of obstacles 

such as rocks or bumps. 

Know your terrain. 


Keep yourself and your 

kites clear of 

other people and their kites. 


Know your abilities and 

your equipment 

limitations. One mistake 

could be your last. 

gy pulled by kites flown on four lines. Pocock's ingenious 
system allowed him to carry up to five passengers at a time 
around the countryside, pulled by kites, at speeds up to 20 
miles per hour. One story tells how Pocock evaded highway 
tolls because the rate of pay was based on the number of 
horses pulling the carriage. No horses — no toll. 

But even Pocock would be amazed to see what's hap- 
pening today. The new wave had its ori- 
gins in stunt kites, the dual-liners (flown 
from two lines} that became popular in the 
late 1970s. Made of "space-age" materi- 
als such as ripstop synthetics and graph- 
ite spars, they were durable enough to be 
flown and flown again, to be practiced 
with. You could hone your kiteflying skills, 
and kite enthusiasts did. They made kit- 
ing an active sport. 

Naturally enough, some of the kites 
were made big enough to take you for a 
ride, and this became less by accident 
and more by choice as kiters would go rid- 
ing down beaches or over fields, wearing 
out their sneakers and jeans. Soon the fli- 
ers went mobile and adopted skates, skate- 
boards, and skis. However, they still 
faced the nuisance of having to walk 
back to the starting point. And kites lost 
their pulling power the faster the flier 
moved because of the lower apparent 
wind available. "Apparent wind" is a sail- 
or's term. To the kite, the wind is relative;. 
the kite "feels" more wind when it's mov- 
ing. But if you, the flier are the kite's an- 
chor, and you are moving, you reduce the 
kite's movement relative to its anchor. The 
faster you move, the more you reduce the 
relative wind at the kite. The kite, therefore, 
won't pull as strongly, say, when you're mov- 
ing as when you're standing still. 

Now high-tech solutions have ended 
these problems. Equipment is readily avail- 
able in kite and sport stores. Consequent- 
ly, there are today probably 2,000 people 
hauling themselves around by kite when 
five years' ago there were virtually none. 
Sedgwick, Taft, and friends are pushing 
the limits every chance they get — on 
grass, hard ground, sand, and water. 

Sedgwick has used grass skis, the cat- 
erpillarlike skates that are made in Europe 
(about $125 in ski and sporting-goods 
stores). They work well in good winds, 15 
miles per hour and steady. On parking lots 
or smooth, empty highways, Sedgwick and 
Taft get a good ride from skates, both regular and in-line 
(Rollerblades). On sand, downhill skis or sand skis are easy 
to use, but because of the greater friction they present un- 
derfoot, you need more power — pull, that is- — from your kite 
and the wind. An increasingly popular choice for wide beach- 
es and open grassy fields — flatlands are best— is the kite- 
powered cart or stunt buggy. The kite buggy is like a very 
low-to-the-ground steel tricycle that you steer with your feet 


i .•■•'• 

__ Desert, 



The first thing Beizer did after hearing he was going Mind 

i le knew nothing 
about photography oth- 
er than he liked a 
good picture as much 
as tha next guy. 
OnGe in a while he'd 
see one so startling, 
original, or provoca- 
tive that it would stop 
him and make him 
gape or shake his 
head in wonder at the 
moment or piece 
o- the world caught 
there. But beyond 
that he had given it 
little thought. That's 
what was great 
about life; some pei> 
pie knew how to 
take pictures, others 
build chimneys or 
train poodles. Beizer 
believed in life. He 
was always grateful it 
had allowed him to 
walk in its parade. At 
times he was almost 
dangerously good na- 
tured. hriends and 

acquaintances were 
suspicious. Where did 
he get off being so 
happy? What secret 
did he know he wasn't 
telling? There was 
a story going around 
that when Beizer 
discovered a letter his 
girlfriend was writing 
to a new secret lover, 
he offered to buy 
her a ticket to this man 
so she could go 
visit and find out what 
was going on there. 
He said he wanted 
her to be happy— 
with or without him. 

But now things 
would change! God 
or whoever had decid- 
ed to'give Norman 
Beizer a taste of the 
whip via this blind- 
ness, Friends were all 
sure he would change 
for the worse; start 
ranting and shrinking 
into self-pity and 
end up like the rest of 
them— tight-lipped, 
expert shruggers, look- 
ing for the answer in 

Instead he bought 
this camera. A real 

beauty too— a 
Cyclops 12. Since he 
didn't know anything 
about the art,, he 
went into the store an 
admitted idiot. That's 
what he told the 
salesman. "Look, I 
don't know about this 
stuff, but I want 
the best camera you 
have for absolute 
idiots. Something I 
can point and shoot 
and know it's doing 
all the work." The - 
salesman liked his 
attitude, so instead of 
offering a Hiram 
Quagola or a Vaslov 
Cyncrometer, the 
kinds of cameras ' 
used by strict Ger- 
mans to do black-and- 
white studies of 
celebrities' noses, he 
put the Cyclops on 
the counter and said, 
"This one. it'll take 
you an hour to gel the 

hang of it and then ' 
you're on your way." 
Beizer did something 
strange. He picked 
the camera up and, 
holding it against his 
chest, said, "Are you: 
■■ telling me the truth?" 

When was the last 
time a stranger asked 
you that question? 
The salesman was 
flabbergasted. His job 
was lies and false 
zeal, fakes and pass- 
es behind his back. 
He had told the truth, 
but this customer 
wanted him to say it 
Out loud, too. 

"It's the best for 
what you want. 
Try it a couple of days 
and if you don't 
like it, bring it back 
and welt find you 
something else." 

The problem with 
the Cyclops was 
it was exactly what 
Beizer had asked 
for. it took an hour to 
road and understand 
the instructions. 
By the next morning, 
he had shot his first 
roil of film and had 

it developed. The 
pictures were as pro ■ 
cisely focused and 
uninteresting as fast- 
food hamburgers. 
Everything was there; 
he'd gotten what ho 
paid for, but a 
moment after expe- 
riencing the picture he 
forgot it. The first 
of many revelations 
came to him. How 
many thousands and 
millions Of times 
had certain things 
been photographed 
since the advent 
of the camera? How 
many times had peo- 
ple aimed at their 
pets, (tie Eiffel Tower, 
the family at the table? 

Waiking around 
the house one day 
trying to think of 
interesting and artistic 
things to photograph, 
he got down or his 
knees in the bathroom 

and took a picture of his toothbrush up 
through the glass shelf it rested on. 
That was pretty clever, but when he saw 
it developed, he frowned and knew at 
least a few hundred thousand people 
had probably had the same idea in one 
way or the other. Out there in the large 
world were drawers full of photos of 
toothbrushes shot : 'arti!y." Worse, oth- 
er people had had to take the time to 
fix their shutters and set the speeds be- 
cause cameras had never been so so- 
phisticated as they were now. Now 
they were point, shoot, baf, you've got 
your toothbrush. But back whenever, 
one had to think, adjust and figure out 
how they'd get that shot. There was proc- 
ess and careful thought involved. 

While this played across his mind, he 
heard shouts through the open window 
and realized kids were having fun in the 
park across the street. Their calls were 
wild and screechy and he thought, If I 
were going deaf, how could I preserve 
those great sounds so that in my si- 
lence I could somehow remember 
them exactly and know 
them again? We're all aware 
that in the end the only thing 
left is our memories, but how 
do you preserve them when 
one part of you decides to 
die before the rest? He real- 
ized he had bought this cam- 
era so he could go around 
seeing the world he knew for 
the last time and in so doing, 
perhaps teach his memory 
to remember. But that 
wouldn't work if he had a 
mindless genius machine 
that did exactly what he told it to but 
gave him nothing of himself in return. It 
was like those exercise machines with 
electrodes you hook up to your body, 
then lie down and rest while electricity 
makes you thin and muscular. 

He went back to the store. When the 
salesman saw him again he was almost 
afraid. Beizer decided to tell the man 
everything. About the blindness, about 
his need to find a camera that would 
not only do what he told it, but teach 
him how to see and remember as well. 

As he walked to the counter, the 
thought came that whatever machine 
he left with this time, he would use a 
week to learn its principles, then allow 
himself to take only ten pictures before 
he put it down forever. The doctor said 
he had about three months before the 
disease marched across his vision drag- 
ging a black curtain behind it and then 
that would be the end. In the ninety 
days he had left, he would try to learn 
and consider and achieve all in one. 
Ten pictures. Ninety days to take ten pic- 
tures which, when his sight was gone, 

would have to provide his empty eyes 
with what he had lost. 

The salesman heard him out and im- 
mediately suggested he go to a store 
specializing in books of great photog- 
raphy. "First look at books on Stieglitz 
and Strand. The guys in the Bauhaus 
School. They were the masters. That's 
the best way to start. If you wanted to 
learn how to paint, you'd go to a muse- 
um and look at da Vinci." "It won't 
help. I'll look and maybe see some 
great stuff, but that won't help me re- 
member. I don't even want to remem- 
ber what they . . ." Beizer held his 
hands up to the sides of his head as if 
showing the other how little space he 
had to fill there. "I don't want to learn 
how to paint or take pictures. I want to 
remember my sights, not theirs. And I 
don't have much time left." 

The salesman shrugged. "Then I 
don't know what to tell you. There are 
two directions to take: I can give you a 
child's camera. The simplest thing in the 
world, which means you'll have to do 






all the work. When you want to take a 
picture, the lighting will have to be per- 
fect, the focus, everything will have to 
be there because the camera won't do 
anything for you but click; just the op- 
posite of the Cyclops which does ev- 
erything. The other way is to buy a Has- 
selblad or a Leica, which are the tops. 
But it takes years and thousands of pic- 
tures to figure out how to use them. I 
don't know what to tell you. Can I think 
about it some more?" Beizer left the 
store empty handed. But for the time be- 
ing perhaps that was best; having the 
right camera meant he'd have to begin 
to start deciding. In this interim without 
one, he could go around looking at the 
world, trying to choose. 

A few blocks from home, a man sat 
on the street with a hat turned over on 
his lap and a hand-written sign that 
said, "I am blind and heartbroken and 
have no work. Please be kind and help 
me." There were a few brown coins in 
the hat. "Are you really blind?" 

The beggar raised his head slowly 
and smiled. He was used to abuse. 

Some people taunted him. Now and 
then they'd ask stupid questions but 
then give him money if they liked or pit- 
ied his response. Before he had a 
chance to answer, whoever stood 
above said, "Tell me what you miss 
most about not seeing and I'll give you 
ten dollars." 

"Fried chicken. Can I have my ten dol- 
lars, please." 

Beizer was stunned but went for his 
wallet. "I don't understand." He hand- 
ed over the money 

The blind man brought the bill to his 
nose and sniffed it. It was money, he 
was sure of that. Maybe even ten 
bucks. Why not? The world was full of 
lunatics. Why not this one? "You know 
smoking? A cigarette is three things — 
smell, taste, and sight. You gotta see 
that gray going out your mouth and up 
in the air to really enjoy a cig. I 
stopped smoking about a month after 
I went blind. I know guys who can't see 
but keep doing it, but it's a waste of 
time, you ask me. Same thing's true 
with fried chicken. Taste it, 
smell, do all that, but seeing 
it's most important. The way 
that gold skin cracks when 
you pull it apart, the smoke 
coming up from the pink 
meat underneath if it's jus-t 
fresh, then the shiny oil on 
you fingertips after you're fin- 
ished. . . . Don't get me 
wrong, I still eat it, but if isn't 
the same. You gotta see to 
really eat it." 

Beizer gave him another 
ten dollars, and went right 
home to write that line down: "You got- 
ta see to really eat it." A week later, he 
found another in a book he was read- 
ing on photography: "The celebrated 
painter Gainsborough got as much 
pleasure from seeing violins as from 
hearing them." 

Somewhere in the land where those 
two ideas lived was what he sought and 
Beizer knew it. 

The girlfriend called, having returned 
from the romantic trip he had paid for. 
"It didn't work. Know what he did, 
among other things? Sent these incred- 
ible love poems I thought he'd written 
specially for me. Turns out he only cop- 
ied them out of an anthology he kept 
from college. 

"I'm sorry I haven't called. What 
have you been doing?" 
"Going blind." 
"Oh my God!" 

They spoke a long while before she 
said gently, "Honey, you can't do pho- 
tography when you're blind." 

"Actually you can; I heard there's a 
whole bunch of blind people taking 







■J- 1%. Je . have reached back in-' 
/tJflJP.time to the origin of the unk 
verse/ We have ..launched- a little 
space probe to receive the- faint whis- ■ 
pars of the cosmic explosion of fif- 
teen billion years ago, and we 
..have measured the. structure of the 
■ ' Big Bang'itselL less than a fraction . 
of a second after the universe start- 
ed to expand;" • 

■ Leading the team that made 
what Stephen Hawking calls ,: the 

■ discovery of the century, if .not : -all . 
time/ 1 cosmoiogist George F. 
Smoot .announced the stunning 
breakthrough at an American Phys- 
ical Society meeting in April 1992. ' 
After 20 years of maniacal- attention 
: to- detail in validating experimental 
/results, Smoot, 47, suddenly found 

himself catapulted to stardom. 

Sitting now beneath overloaded 
bookshelves (guardrailed for earth- 
quake safety) in his office at the UnL " 
versify of California's . Lawrence. 
Berkeley Laboratory -Smoot's face 
is flanked by two computers on clut- 
tered tables behind him. A little lap- 
top that, accompanied him on a re- 
cent trip to NASA's Goddard Space- 
flight Center perches between the '.. 

.larger machines, downloading into 
one parent's hard drive. .Smoot 
talks in rapid-fire bursts that leap 
from one idea, to another like elec- 
trical impulses.. His great booming 
laugh is amplified by his large 
frame and the abandon with, which 

' he surrenders himself to the humor 

dnthe moment. His thoughts turn re- 
peatedly to the time when all mat- 
ter and energy were crunched ir/c 
an almost infinitely hot, infinite.;. 

' dense point before rushing head- 
long into the inflationary expansion 
that has created this universe. 
American astronomer Edwin Hub- 

. ble gathered the first evice'ce - 
the Twenties that trie u.nLs'se .'.as 
expanding. When he observed the 
elk :; .. " / =y from . 

us at prodigious sseecs, they 
looked to him like they'd been ex-/ 
pelted in some primordial explo- . 

■ sion— if their flight path could be run 
■"backward, they would all coalesce ■ 
into the original fireball. Belgian cos- 

mologist Georges Lemaftre first voiced 
the idea of a "primeval atom" in 1927. 
But the theory got its enduring name — 
the Big Bang — when English astrono- 
mer Fred Hoyle, who believed the uni- 
verse always had and always would ex- 
ist in a "steady state," derided the 
sudden-birth notion. 

Smoot was a boy in Florida when sci- 
entists began amassing support for the 
Big Bang. The theory made good pre- 
dictions about the abundance of hydro- 
gen and helium and explained why the 
sky is dark at night: Fiery starlight must 
dim and cool in an ever-enlarging cos- 
mos where stars are born from gravita- 
tional collapse and later die. The Big 
Bang also implied the existence of a 
faint afterglow of radiation, a relic of the 
original explosion. 

Scientists in 1948 suggested that 15 
billion years ago, this cosmic back- 
ground radiation must have been uni- 
maginably hot. But spreading itself 
thin in the intervening millennia would 
have hushed it to a faint whisper of low- 
energy microwaves far colder than ice. 
in 1965, Arno Penzias and Robert 
Wilson at Bell Labs accidentally detect- 
ed, identified, and measured the tem- 
perature of the low-energy microwaves 
at 2.73 degrees above absolute zero. 

The smoothness of the cosmic back- 
ground radiation recalls the time when 
the universe was as uniform as homog- 
enized milk. Today, in contrast, it is aw- 
fully lumpy, broken up into people, plan- 
ets, stars, galaxies, clusters of galaxies, 
and giant walls of superclusters sur- 
rounding giant voids. The cosmic back- 
ground radiation, then, carries our 
best key to the distant past. 

People had been probing the cosmic 
background radiation for 30 years, but 
no one had detected any deviation 
from absolute smoothness, no hint of 
the beginnings of the structure that dom- 
inates the present universe — no one un- 




til a team headed by Smoot detected 
variations in temperature measured in 
millionths of a degree. These minuscule 
differences show the ripples in space- 
time, where matter first began to 
clump gravitationally about 10,000 
years after the Big Bang. Radiation 
from regions of higher density expend- 
ed more energy trying to escape a deep- 
er gravitational well and therefore ap- 
peared slightly cooler than average. Ra- 
diation from regions of lower density 
retained more heat. Smoot's team chart- 
ed these differences in radiation from 
detectors aboard the Cosmic Back- 
ground Explorer satellite, or COBE 
(rhymes with Dobie). 

Oval-shaped maps in shades of 
pink and blue decorate Smoot's office, 
depicting the pattern of temperature fluc- 
tuations across the heavens. As bright 
and gay as enormous Easter eggs, the 
maps summarize hundreds of millions 
of observations COBE collected during 
its first year in orbit. They represent a 
herculean task of data analysis to dis- 
cern the pattern in the welter of noise 
and to single out that pattern from over- 
lying extraneous signals, including ra- 
diation emitted by our Milky Way gal- 
axy and the motion of Earth, solar sys- 
tem, and our galaxy through space. 

In his efforts to validate his results be- 
fore announcing them, Smoot tried to 
imagine every scenario that might 
have distorted the data. Unable to see 
anything wrong, he offered a pair of 
plane tickets to anywhere in the world 
to the team member who could uncov- 
er a mistake in method or interpretation. 
When his offer failed to turn up an er- 
ror, the COBE team went public. "If 
you're religious," said Smoot at the 
press conference after the formal an- 
nouncement, "it's like seeing God-" 

— Dava Sobel 

Omni: What possessed you to use the 
G-word when you announced the CO- 
BE findings? 

Smoot: I invoked God because it's a cul- 
tural icon people understand — but 
there's something deeper. Talking 
about cosmology, you can't help mak- 
ing the connection to religion. In all re- 
ligions, all cultures, there's always, "In 
the beginning." Either you started from 
something or you didn't, right? I got let- 
ters from religious people. About half 
said, "That's great. It's wonderful what 
you've done." The others said, "You 
don't need those experiments. You 
should read the Bible and learn more. 
It's right here in the Bible." 

Even so, few letters were antagonis- 
tic. Most criticism came from scientists 
who find the idea threatening because 
it's an unresolved issue personally. To 
get into science, a lot of scientists may 
have rejected religion initially but then 
later never went back and got comfort- 
able with that rejection. 
Omni: Were your parents religious? 
Smoot: They were Protestant — not 
strongly religious, but we went to 
church when I was young. Anyway, I'm 
comfortable with it. 

Omni: Did the public's response to 
your version of creation surprise you? 
Smoot: Yes. I thought the finding 

Professor of physics, 

Detection of gravity waves :;: ; 

University of 

and dark matter 

California, Berkeley; 

One millionth of one second 

"It's a great one. 


after the Big Bang 

perfect for the modern- ■ 


Lawrence Berkeley 

world because it's 

"In cartoons, you 


Led the team that 
discovered evidence of 

glitzy and high tech." 

see people standing out 
in the middle of 
standing on dark 

Wrinkles in Time, with 


the universe's 

"i know: the secret of 

matter or running off cliffs 

Davidson (Morrow 1993) 

; earliest structures 

the universe." 

'■ onto dark matter." 

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would appear in texts and popular 
books on cosmology and only then 
leak down to the media. But it drew tre- 
mendous attention— and it was good 
news. In science, the news is often 
that something awful has happened. 
Omni: Who directly influenced you ? 
Smoot: Enrico Fermi has been a hero 
since MIT. The teachers who influenced 
me directly were themselves taught by 
Fermi. As postdocs at Berkeley, a 
bunch of us would lunch with Luis Al- 
varez, Emilio Segre, and Owen Cham- 
berlain, who had all known Fermi and 
all won Nobel Prizes. They used to 
love to give us war-story quizzes on prob- 
lems in nuclear physics they'd faced. 
Sometimes we managed to figure 
them out. Nowadays, you don't learn 
much nuclear physics; it's out of fash- 
ion. Particle physics, cosmology, astro- 
physics, mathematical topology— 
these are where people think the fron- 
tier is. 

Omni: Where do you place the begin- 
ning of modern cosmology? 
Smoot: When 1 was a graduate student 
in particle physics at Brookhaven 
about 20 years ago, scientists were dis- 
covering that the proton is made of 
quarks. They'd tried to measure the di- 
ameter of the proton accurately but 
kept finding it to be soft and mushy 

with hard points in it. We now know pro- 
tons and neutrons are both made of 
quarks, and so their collision may in- 
volve two quarks in each particle, or 
three, or one. As particles get closer, 
the repulsive barriers between them col- 
lapse, so one can imagine protons and 
neutrons colliding and suddenly dissolv- 
ing into a bunch of pointiike particles 
whose interactions get weaker and weak- 
er as you push them together. 

Well, suppose everything in the uni- 
verse consists of pointlike quarks with 
no finite extent, and the more you 
push them together, the less they re- 
sist? Then there's no limit to how many 
you can get onto the head of a pin. The 
difference between protons and 
quarks could be infinite — which fits 
much better with the Big Bang model's 
implication that you're manufacturing 
spacetime. The suitcase expander un- 
folds and you've got more suitcase. 
Omni: How does inflation fit into the Big 
Bang theory? 

Smoot: Inflation is the engine that 
drove the formation of spacetime. The 
inflationary model holds that a small re- 
gion of the early universe — say less 
than a millionth of a millionth of a pro- 
ton — expanded in a tiny fraction of a sec- 
ond, faster than the speed of light, to 
something about 100 meters in size. 

Omni: Faster than the speed of light? 
Smoot: Things moving apart faster 
than the speed of light don't actually 
move; the distance between them just 
has to grow. The only thing that travels 
faster than light is spacetime. Essential- 
ly all the spacetime we're in now was 
created during that tiny fraction of a sec- 
ond. Tiny fluctuations, quantum mechan- 
ical effects, got stretched to sizes of cos- 
mological consequences. These small 
fluctuations from the origin of the uni- 
verse are what have grown to be gal- 
axies, clusters of galaxies, and the larg- 
er-scale structure we observe today. In- 
flation is a transcendent concept linking 
the very small and very large. 
Omni: It's said that the COBE findings 
unified astrophysics on the largest 
scale with quantum physics on the small- 
est scale. 

Smoot: That was the trend of cosmolo- 
gy anyway. COBE just found the piec- 
es and put them on a firm observation- 
al foundation. With the COBE data so 
strongly supporting the Big Bang, eve- 
rybody feels quite confident. But the Big 
Bang itself is what ultimately makes the 
connection between astrophysics and 
particle physics, because if you go 
back far enough, space gets denser 
and hotter until eventually you're hav- 
ing particle interactions. 
Omni: Particle interactions? 
Smoot: You don't have particles at the 
beginning, just this stuffed-in, energy- 
dense space that's going to turn into par- 
ticles, energy, and present-day space. 
It doesn't seem unreasonable or outra- 
geous to me now that I've gotten used 
to thinking of space as flexible, stretch- 
able, and having real substance. It's a 
real thing on its own. Energy-dense 
space can turn into the space we're 
used to, and particles. I think of it as a 
metamorphosis, like the difference be- 
tween the caterpillar and the butterfly. 
You wouldn't think butterflies and cat- 
erpillars were related until you noticed 
that one went into the cocoon and the 
other came out. Well, particles and 
space are not so distinct anymore. 
Omni: We imagine at the moment of the 
Big Bang that matter began shooting in- 
to this vast, empty space from some 
dense, central starting point. 
Smoot: That's the general misconcep- 
tion, but a lot goes on in what we think 
of as empty space. The Big Bang 
doesn't expand Into space. It is space. 
Space itself expands, and as it does, 
it increases the distance between mat- 
ter that was once densely packed. One 
can picture the expanding universe by 
thinking of galaxies as dots drawn on 
a balloon. As you blow it up, the gal- 
axies fly apart in all directions, but it's 
really the increasing space itself that wid- 

ens the distance between galaxies. I 
can't emphasize enough that space is 
what's expanding, not the galaxies mov- 
ing out into space. 

Inflation represents the extreme 
case, where space is not only very flex- 
ible, but also has the ability to warp and 
expand. It can be deformed both in its 
curvature and scale. During inflation, 
space has a lot of substance in terms 
of energy density. Now imagine that the 
energy density puts ripples in space. 
Where the curvature of the ripples is pos- 
itive, particles will eventually converge, 
the way lines of longitude on a globe 
converge at the poles. If you take rip- 
ples of all different sizes and scales, 
you'll end up having particles converg- 
ing on all different sizes and scales— 
the stars, galaxies, and clusters of gal- 
axies. Where the curvature is negative, 
particles will flow away, leaving voids. 

You're creating all the space. There 
was essentially nothing there. I haven't 
resolved this, but I think of space and 
time as complementary, but time is re- 
ally different from space. I always hat- 
ed when people taught me in special 
relativity that time and space are the 
same thing, because they're obviously 
not. You can rotate an object in space, 
but if you try to rotate it in time, you 
have to trade off space and time in a 

funny way. When we try to calculate 
what a rotation looks like, instead of 
keeping the distance constant, the spa- 
tial distance grows or subtracts. 

Somehow I've crunched everything 
down to virtually nothing. Then I start un- 
folding space and time and trade 
them off- When I get a little space : I get 
time; more space, more time. This is a 
tricky picture because of this concept 
of space having these intrinsic proper- 
ties of curvature — that it can change its 
curvature and stretch its scale and 
trade it off for time. The ratio of trade- 
off for spacetime depends on the cur- 
vature, which depends on energy den- 
sity. If you make the density just right, 
then the curvature of space is just 
right, so the unfolding costs you zero. 
So it's funny; you're creating space and 
all the energy in it and doing it for no 
cost- That somehow violates your com- 
mon sense. But you couldn't collapse 
it all back down— right? 
Omni: Have you other mental pictures 
of the Big Bang? 

Smoot: My favorite analogy is an infinite 
petri dish full of rapidly dividing cells. 
If a cell mutates, it makes many similar 
cells around it, so the infinite petri dish 
has regions that look different from 
each other because of local mutations. 
In one area, a red-mutating cell creates 

,„■- Wooft/ 

a growing blob of red ceils. Around it 
are white or clear cells, and over 
there's a bunch of blue cells. The re- 
gions made early grow big during the 
inflationary period because the expan- 
sion is accelerating. The distance be- 
tween any two points grows at an ex- 
ponential rate. Regions made later can 
never get to be as large. 
Omni: Do you have a visual image of 
cold dark matter? 

Smoot: Well, it's not there. It's a more 
abstract question like, "How do you vis- 
ualize strength or loudness?" I have prej- 
udices about cold dark matter. I don't 
think of it as visual, but substantive. I 
imagine ripples in spacetime going 
through metamorphoses, from energy 
density to radiation and particles. Dur- 
ing a period of expansion lasting about 
10,000 years, the radiation cools con- 
tinuously until particles by their gravi- 
tational attraction begin to move toward 
forming structure. These were particles 
of nonbaryonic dark matter. 
Omni: Ordinary dark matter might in- 
clude invisible things like burnt-out 
stars and'- black holes, right? But non- 
baryonic dark matter is fundamentally 
different from matter as we know it? 
Smoot: Yes. The early universe is so hot 
and rapidly expanding that nothing can 
clump together. But about 10,000 
years after the Big Bang, the dark mat- 
ter can start saying, "Let's pay atten- 
tion to ourselves instead of the radia- 
tion." It can start clumping. The only 
kind of matter then is nonbaryonic 
dark matter, a non-light-interacting, non- 
electromagnetically interacting materi- 
al. The matter we're used to interacts 
with and generates light, so we can see 
it as stars. But nonbaryonic dark mat- 
ter is free to follow the curvature of 
space earlier than regular matter and 
is very effective at forming structure. 

It's a structure you can't see at first — 
as though an invisible man were leav- 
ing his footprints all over the place- 
Then, when the universe cools enough 
for matter that interacts with light to fi- 
nally get released, at about 300,000 
years after the Big Bang, the ordinary 
atoms collect in the footprints like 
dust. The ordinary matter quickly 
streams into the ready-made structures 
of those invisible forms. We're still try- 
ing to fill in some skipped steps in the 
cold-dark-matter model. 
Omni: Hadn't you attempted to meas- 
ure the background radiation? 
Smoot: I started out by trying to detect 
irregularities — anisotropics — in it. I ex- 
pected to measure something about the 
dynamics of the universe and thought 
the origin of galaxies was a trivial prob- 
lem. Galaxies were there, obviously, 
and must have formed from lumps, but 



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We've all heard about 
-eople who channel en- 
tities alleged from 
beyond. But only Barbara 
Bell, managing editor 
of the New Age journal 
Common Ground, chan- 
nels Barbie. 

Two years ago, P~" 
noticed a dozen of her four 
daughters' Barbie dolls 
scattered across the floor 
of her San Anselmo, 
California, home. "I 
thought, What does this 
poor doll think?" says Bell, 
"and Barbie's voice just 
popped into my head, 
saying, 'I need respect.'" 

Hearing of her experi- 
ence, Bell's colleagues 
suggested she channel 
Barbie. So Bell started the 
Barbie Channeling News- 
letter. For $3, she sends 

.pno^QKC QorkioV ^n(M*,o,- 

ersonal query along 
with a copy of the 
newsletter. "I go into a 
light trance," says Bell, 44, 
whose nickname is also 
Barbie, "and the words 
come flying out. There are 
700 million Barbie dolls 
in the world with no voice 
that's real." 

Mattel, however, thinks 
the corporate voice of 
Barbie is doing just fine. 
"We feel that this use 

-* '— . demark adverse- 

the family 

image," says Lisa McKen- 
dall of Mattel. 

Bell, however, says 


t.MW^ '5 "j^™^. «s** 



&§" "•*■ ^*»< *m 




■ .'" ■; ; . 

she's doing nothing 
wrong. "I'm not selling 
anything to little kids," she 
notes. "I'm writing about 
adult concerns and giving 
Barbie a broader market. 
— Anita Baskin 

Had a UFO experience? 
Want to talk about 
it? Call (900) 285-5483, 
and give us the 
details. Your comments 
will be recorded 
and may appear in a 
future issue. For more 
details, see page 80. - 


Still waiting for your first 
UFO sighting — a night- 
time disk, perhaps, or a 
cigar-shaped craft that 
leaves tracks on the lawn? 
If so, says investigator 
David Jacobs, you're living 
in the past. The wave 
of the future in UFO re- 
search, he insists, in- 
cludes nothing less than 
a systematic study of 
the thousands of people 
who say they have 
been kidnapped by aliens — 
the abductees. 

history at Temple Univer- 
,o ^i O researchers already used 
hundreds of thousands of 
cases to classify UFO 
movement, color, sound, 
shape, and impact on the 
environment. "But how 
much verification do you 
need?" asks Jacobs. 
"Sighting data doesn't 
answer any of the 'why' 
questions, like why are the 
sightings taking place?" 
• But Jacobs views are 
called into question by 
Jerome Clark, vice presi- 
dent of the Center of UFO 
Studies in Illinois. "UFOIo- 


gy is overlooking a treas- 
ure trove of information 
by neglecting sightings," 
he insists. "Th 

back away froi ..... ■ 

of hard data, the more 
you get i 

For instance, oiam 
recently examined a raft 
of UFO sightings in 
which crafts came within 
500 feet of witnesses. 
"There wasn't one little 
gray man," says Clark, 
"which raises questions 
about why abductees 
see them now." 

—Paul McCarthy 

Skeptical about more 
than just ghosts 
and UFOs? Wonder how 
much science there 
really is behind cryonics — 
in which the dead 
are frozen in hopes of 
revival decades hence? 
Concerned about the 
proliferation of cults? If 
so, you might want to 
check out a new group 
of critical thinkers, 
the Altadena, California- 
based international 
Skeptics Society. 

Founded almost two 
years ago by Occi- 
dental College history-of- 
science professor 
Michael Shermer, the 
group publishes the 
quarterly magazine Skep- 
tic. With a circulation 
of 8,000, the publication 
sponsors monthly lec- 
tures at the California In- 
stitute of Technology 
on topics from witchcraft 
to historical devasta- 
tion of the environment. 

But how does the 
Skeptics Society differ 
from the world-famous 
Committee for the Scientif- 
ic Investigation of Claims 
of the Paranormal, or 
CSICOP, based in Buffa- 
lo, New York? As far as 
Shermer is concerned, 
the older skeptics group 
and its publication, the 
Skeptical Inquirer, with a 
circulation of 38,000, is 
just not skeptical enough. 

"Unlike CSICOP, we 
aren't worried about riling 
people's feathers," he 
comments. "CSICOP 
won't touch religions, for 
example. And they 
believe science can't do 
anything about social 
issues like crime or war. 
But for us, there are 
no sacred cows — we 
should not be afraid to 
look at anything from 
a scientific point of view." 

CSICOP executive di- 
rector Barry Karr, howev- 
er, points out that his 
group was founded 
specifically to investigate 
claims of the paranormal 
and fringe science. 
"We never said we could 
cure the social ills of 
the world," he says. "We 
investigate issues that 
can be tested scientif- 
ically and empirically, not 
questions of faith." 

Shermer plays down 
competition between 
the two groups, adding 
that the world needs 
all the skeptics it can get. 
— Sherry Baker 


While cruising off the 
coast of Hawaii with her 
husband Ron, Mary 
Yezierski of Palmerton, 
Pennsylvania, recorded 
erupting volcanoes on 

camcorder. But when the 
Yezierskis watched the 
tape on their home VCR, 
static had obliterated the 


volcano and Mary and 
Ron instead heard the 
mumble of a male voice. 

"My friend Wanda, who 
had been on the trip, 
duped the tape onto an 
eight-track cassette," said 
Yezierski. "She played 
it back and heard a man's 
voice say, 'Come next 
Thursday. I will be relent- 

less.' We played the 
cassette on my VCR and 

thought he was a 

ghost — a dead, lost sailor- 

WhO WE" " -'■-•'-< 

solved when one of 
the Yezierskis' friends saw 
the "ghost" on the family 
VCR. She recognized 
it as the film Dangerous 

HBO while the vacationers 
were in Hawaii. 

Charles Decker of the 

i ci ii ioy i veil iici noouvianui f 

of the Study of the Un- 
explained is not sure how 
the movie got onto 
the tape. "They couldn't 
get HBO on the ship 
because there was no 
microwave receiver," 
he says, "but a satellite 
dish on the island may 
have influenced the camcor- 
der and recorded that brief 
segment." — Anita Baskin 


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they become negative ions. Lightning 
researchers say it's the ionizing of ice 
particles that charges clouds positive- 
ly on top, negatively lower down. 

As Uman explains it, a thundercloud 
might tower eight miles high; updrafts 
lift water droplets from the cloud's 
warm base into its frosty upper regions, 
where the droplets freeze into tiny ice 
slivers and lumps of hail. The light- 
weight slivers can float aloft on the 
winds, but the heavier hail falls. Descend- 
ing, the hail bumps rising slivers. The 
slivers lose electrons, becoming posi- 
tively charged as they rise. Meanwhile, 
the hail gains electrons as it falls, giv- 
ing the cloud's lower regions a nega- 
tive charge. Tension grows between the 
cloud's top and bottom. "The plus and 
minus charges want to get together so 
badly; it's as if invisible rubber bands 
stretch between them — an electric 
field," says Uman. 

Usually, the two charges do meet. A 
current rips through the cloud, visible 
as a lightning flash. However, whether 
the flash stays inside the cloud or reach- 
es the ground depends, according to 
current theory, on the height of the 
cloud charge above the ground. 

A cloud's reservoir of negative 
charge extends upward from the alti- 
tude at which temperatures hit the freez- 
ing point. In the tropics, that point is so 
far above the ground that the cloud's 
charged zones interact mostly with 
each other. Tropical lightning is ten 
times more likely to stay inside the 
cloud than to hit the ground. But farther 
north and south, where air gets colder 
lower, lightning hits the ground twice as 
often as in the tropics. At least that's 
what researchers believe the data 
show. A few iconoclasts argue that 
cloud-to-ground rates are no lower in 
the tropics, and some say that tropical 
lightning may carry more current than 
lightning in higher latitudes, possibly be- 
cause tropical clouds are bigger. 

When lightning does flash down 
from a cloud, we're apt to see only a 
single streak of light. High-speed cam- 
eras, however, have revealed that 
those seemingly single hits are usually 
many strokes, flashing so rapidly in suc- 
cession that we see them as one. 
When lightning flickers, we discover in- 
dividual strokes. 

First, the cloud emits an electric feel- 
er, barely luminous, that zigzags down- 
ward. Each zig is a 170-foot or so 
stretch of ionized air that lasts a mil- 
lionth of a second. Then the feeler re- 
charges and zags ahead. As this neg- 



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atively charged "stepped leader" 
nears the earth, positive charges below 
are so powerfully attracted that they 
rear up from every grass blade and 
pine needle like invisible garter 
snakes. Finally, one of these positive 
"garter snakes" makes contact with the 
three-mile-long negative "boa constric- 
tor" dropping from the clouds. In effect, 
the cloud is now wired to the ground. 
With the invisible wire in place, a "re- 
turn stroke" sizzles upward at up to a 
third of light speed. High currents 
make this stroke bright. The glow 
might be ten yards in diameter, but the 
actual core through which current 
moves is only about an inch across. At 
50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, that core is 
nearly five times hotter than the surface 
of the sun. 

If the cloud still has excess negative 
charge, a new "dart leader" might re- 
trace, more or less, the ionized path of 
the original strokes, triggering the proc- 
ess anew. More dart leaders may fol- 
low. A "single" flash of lightning may ac- 
tually be 20 or 30 separate strokes, but 
usually three or four — all in a split sec- 
ond. Our eye sees only a flicker. 

Some scientists, including Bernard 
Vonnegut (brother of novelist Kurt Von- 
negut), have offered a countertheory of 
how clouds become charged. They ar- 
gue that winds blow positively 
charged particles from near ground lev- 
el up into a storm cloud's upper reach- 
es. Uman says that he and most other 
lightning researchers continue to put 
their bets on the standard model, 
based on precipitation that forms inside 
of clouds, but these so-called convec- 
tion theories may well play a secondary 
role in cloud charging. 

However it may finally turn out to be 
triggered, lightning is apparently not lim- 
ited to Earth. NASA's interplanetary mis- 
sions have produced evidence that light- 
ning flashes in other planets' atmos- 
pheres, too. 

Cameras on the Voyager 1 and 2 plan- 
etary explorers snapped pictures of tran- 
sient lights on Jupiter that are likely light- 
ning flashes. Voyager 2 detected light- 
ninglike electrostatic discharges on 
Saturn and Uranus. And the Pioneer ar- 
biter recorded radio signals on Venus 
that might be lightning generated. 
Right now, the Galileo mission is en 
route to Jupiter with a lightning detec- 
tor inside. University of Arizona research- 
ers and the University of Florida Light- 
ning Lab helped Germany's Max 
Planck institute of Aeronomy design the 
Jovian lightning detector. "It contains an 
antenna that records lightning magnetic 
fields and a light detector, and it will be 
dropped by parachute," says Vladimir 
Rakov, a Russian lightning expert now 

at the Florida lab. 

When Galileo arrives at Jupiter in De- 
cember 1995, it will parachute down its 
antenna, listening for telltale radio fre- 
quencies while two light sensors peer 
out through fisheye lenses. The idea is 
to verify that Jupiter has lightning and 
to probe its properties: What sorts of 
magnetic fields do Jovian lightning 
bolts generate? What is the frequency 
of lightning strikes on Jupiter? What are 
the optical characteristics of Jovian light- 
ning? Basically, the idea is to see how 
the currents and electrical and magnet- 
ic fields of Jovian lightning compare to 
Earth's. "We have a twin brother of the 
Galileo instrument here in Florida to see 
what it shows of terrestrial intracloud light- 
ning; that way, we'll try to make sense 

of the data coming in from Jupiter," 
says Rakov. 

Even terrestrial lightning remains ali- 
en. "Actually, we know very little about 
lightning," says Rakov. To learn more, 
Lightning Lab scientists are forever sam- 
pling the troposphere, like dogs sniff- 
ing the wind. "We can pick up thunder- 
storms from around the globe if we use 
the right equipment," Rakov says. But 
the lab's roof-mounted antennas usual- 
ly tune into lighting strikes within ten 
miles. The researchers study lightning 
by analyzing electric and magnetic 
waves that lightning generates. 

Some of their findings should have 
practical applications. Just recently, the 
lab discovered that 50 percent of Flori- 
da's lightning strikes actually branch out 

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and hit the ground in two or more 
spots. That means standard data on the 
frequency of lightning hits — used for set- 
ting protection levels for power lines 
and other equipment — might be way 
off. The jury is still out, but such discov- 
eries can have a major impact on the 
electrical industry. As Uman puts it, 'Tor 
power companies, lightning is the num- 
ber-one problem." 

The lab also studies a special spe- 
cies called "continuous-current" light- 
ning, in which the strokes are longer last- 
ing and thus more destructive. The re- 
searchers have found that a large 
stroke followed by a short interval and 
then a small stroke ushers in a continuous- 
current stroke. Why is still a mystery. 

One practical product of the joint re- 
search between the University of Arizo- 
na and the University of Florida is cur- 
rently in use nationwide — an electromag- 
netic detection system that spots light- 
ning strikes as they happen across the 
continent. It's now commercially avail- 
able to anyone who needs to track the 
path of lightning storms. 

To show how the detection system 
works, Uman points to one of the lab's 
computers, which is hooked to the sys- 
tem headquarters in Tucson, Arizona. 
The screen displays a colored map: A 
plus sign appears in central New Mex- 
ico; two more pop up in Colorado. 
Each is a lightning hit. The equipment, 
developed by Uman and University of 
Arizona physicist E. Philip Krider, relies 
on 115 sensing stations across the 
United States. By evaluating changes 
in the atmosphere's electromagnetic 
fields, the system identifies strikes. 

Power companies sign up. So do 
weather services, airlines, and forest 
managers. "If you're a power compa- 
ny and you see lightning coming, you 
don't let your people go home; you dis- 
connect some equipment in the 
storm's path, and you get your workers 
off the wires," says Uman. Kennedy 
Space Center has a local version of the 
Krider-Uman detection system that de- 
livers more pinpoint accuracy. It uses 
similar instruments to monitor electric 
fields in overhead clouds. But even the 
Space Center's system is crude com- 
pared to a new souped-up detection net- 
work Lightning Lab scientists are now 
developing at Kennedy. 

To show off the new system, Ewen 
Thomson, a Lightning Lab researcher, 
turns on a computer screen showing da- 
ta from five robot electric-field sensors 
dotted around the Space Center. "Lots 
of squiggles," he says, in his New Zeal- 
and accent. Computers crunch the 
squiggles into a dynamic picture of electro- 
magnetic events overhead. "With this sys- 
tem," says Thomson, "not only do we see 

where a stroke hits the ground, but also 
what's going on inside the clouds." 

Scientists have only a dim understand- 
ing of in-cloud lightning because 
clouds are opaque. Sending an air- 
plane in to trigger strokes helps, but 
such artificial intracloud strokes aren't 
necessarily the same as natural light-. 
ning. "So this new system is the first at- 
tempt to study the locations and phys- 
ics of major discharge processes inside 
clouds," says Thomson. 

The system afready has reveaied a 
new type of electrical field that appears 
early in the electrification of a cloud. 
"These fields may be a great way to 
detect that a cloud j's starting to elec- 
trify," Thomson says. The new system 
has other practical possibilities, too. 

"Kennedy could use it for launch pro- 
tection," says Thomson. He points out 
that Kennedy's current detectors are ac- 
curate only to about 1,000 feet; the new 
system can detect lightning hits to with- 
in 100 feet. 

At Kennedy Space Center, Thom- 
son's associate Pedro Medelius shows 
off one of the robot sensing stations — 
a wire grid about the size of a swimming 
pool laid out on the ground and sup- 
porting two waferlike metal antennas. Fi- 
ber-optic cabfes hook the antennas to 
an instrument box and then to the cen- 
tral computer station in a little trailer. 
Medelius works on various nonlightning 
projects for l-NEJ, a NASA contractor, 
but the lightning-detection network 
adds adventure to his workday. 



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"Snake boots," he says in the con- 
trol trailer, holding up thick leather 
Wellingtons. "We get a lot of rattle- 
snakes and water moccasins, and the 
other day we had Mom wild hog, Dad 
wild hog, and all the piglets." In addi- 
tion to his boots, he says, he buys mos- 
quito repellent by the boxful. One day 
he was running along the dirt road 
near the control trailer and skidded to 
a stop in front of a 14-foot alligator. 

Medelius is a fan of the new system. 
It's so sensitive, he says, that it can de- 
tect lightning strikes 120 miles away in 
Tampa. When its operational in a year 
or so, if NASA maintains funding, it 
should help researchers answer some 
burning questions. 

"We don't know how lightning gets 
started in clouds," says Uman, back at 
the Gainesville, Florida lab, ticking off 
science's points of ignorance. How do 
airplanes and rockets trigger lightning? 
What are the exact differences between 
natural and triggered lightning? In 
what kinds of clouds and under what 
meteorological conditions can lightning 
be triggered? What is the mechanism 
by which the leader of a lightning 
stroke finds its way from a cloud down 
through the atmosphere to the 
ground 7 Uman sums up the ignorance 
gap: "We don't know how lightning at- 
taches to the ground and not much 
about how it gets from the cloud to the 
ground— mainly, we don't understand 
its beginning and its end." 

Lightning is godlike. "It keeps the 
earth negatively charged — we don't 
know what would happen if it 
stopped," says Uman. But fear of light- 
ning is "imprinted in our genes." 

Perhaps for good reason: Every 
year, in the United States alone, light- 
ning kills more than 200 people. It al- 
most killed Uman. He was outside dur- 
ing a lightning storm at Kennedy 
Space Center, holding a microphone 
and dictating his observations to other 
scientists inside the research trailer. 
Abruptly, he was deafened by a crash. 
Everything became intensely bright. "I 
went down those stairs as fast as any- 
one ever did," he says. 

Zeus must have a soft spot for re- 
searchers: Afterward, Uman saw a pho- 
tograph of himself standing in the 
storm, a lightning bolt streaking down 
on him. Just over his head, the lightning 
forked and hit on either side. After 
that, says Uman, "we began watching 
storms through Plexiglas bubbles." 
Even so, he remains an enthusiast. 
"These are the world's most spectacu- 
lar fireworks and finest acoustics," he 
says. "If you stay outside, you'll see and 
hear many things that scientists haven't 
yet begun to talk about." DO 



while your hands maneuver your kite. 
The standard model is made by Peter 
Lynn of New Zealand and retails for 
about $850. Today, stunt buggies are 
rolling out the door of Lynn's factory at 
the rate of 15 a week. 

To satisfy the water-skiing kiter, a 
new company, Kiteski, promotes a com- 
plete setup — kite, water skis, bindings, 
control bar, line, bag, hat, T-shirt, vid- 
eo, and newsletter for $1,350— and 
gives instruction in the sport. Boats de- 
signed for propulsion by kite are under 
development by Lynn and Sylvain Ber- 
thomme of France. 

The sport is spreading out not only 
geographically, but technically. Yet it is 
still very, very new. It has no teachers, 
no schools, no competitions, no rules— 
not yet, anyway. Enthusiasts learn 
from comrades or kite shops or simply 
from individual experiment. And you 
can bet that creativity and a small 
dose of daring have to be part of the 
aficionado's supply list. 

Specialized publications such as 
Kite Lines magazine are spreading the 
word about the joy of kite power. The 
international quarterly recently ran a five- 
page article about kite power, includ- 
ing a chronology of kite traction. Here 
and abroad, the sport is catching on. 
In Stratford-upon-Avon, England, for ex- 
ample, the first U.K. National Buggy 
Race drew a strong field last June. The 
winner, Keiron Chatterjea, had just fin- 
ished his college degree in sports with 
a dissertation on kite buggying. 

How do people get started in kite pro- 
pulsion? Motivation seems to come 
from a combination of factors: the con- 
tagion of friends, availability of open 
spaces and winds, an appreciation of 


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the outdoors and of the therapeutic 
value in it. 

Speed lust is a large part of the at- 
traction. Sedgwick estimates he's trav- 
eled under kite power at more than 50 
miles per hour. Whatever speed you're 
doing, it feels like you're moving faster 
than you actually are. While Taft admits 
to surpassing her fright threshold some- 
times, Sedgwick laps it up. "I'm a wind 
fool," he says. In spite of his happy-go- 
lucky outlook, though, Sedgwick is a 
model of safety consciousness. He 
preaches and practices kite safety con- 
stantly (see "Seven Safety Rules"). 

If you want to start flying, you'll need 
three kinds of equipment: a vehicle, a 
kite, and accessories. The vehicle can 
be skates, Rollerblades, grass skis, a 
skateboard, a sled, downhill skis, wa- 
ter skis, a surfboard, a buggy, or a 
boat. The kite can be any of today's 
high-tech designs (which include kites 
now made specifically for traction): 
soft or framed, quad-line or dual-line, sin- 
gle or stacked. You won't find them at 
Kmart yet, but they're available in any 
respectable kite store. 

The main contender for the moment 
is the soft quad-line (four-line) kite 
based on the original parafoil, an air- 
inflated kite that is stiffened by the 
wind and has no frame. Soft kites have 

some obvious advantages: They can't 
ding your neighbors' cars or craniums 
when they crash. They're also much eas- 
ier to launch — and relaunch— without 
help. There's a variety of soft kites in- 
cluding the Quadrifoil by Kite Innova- 
tions in Texas ($100 to $600), the Peel 
by Peter Lynn ($360 to $900), and the 
Parawing by Wolf Beringer of Germa- 
ny ($500 to $1,000) but now being 
made in the United States ($350 to 
$1 ,300) by North American Parawing of 
New Hampshire. (All prices vary accord- 
ing to size.) 

Quad-line kites work on the principle 
of controlling not only a kite's vertical 
and horizontal movement, but its fore- 
and-aft axis, or attitude, as well. The fly- 
ing is done from two handles that with 
only small tilting wrist movements con- 
trol the amount of power and lift of the 
kite. With practice, it's possible to com- 
pletely reverse direction, stop sudden- 
ly in midair, dive bomb, twirl, jiggle, 
dance, relaunch unassisted, and — 
most important to the pilots of Presque 
Isle — tack against the wind. Tacking is 
how ice kiters can go across the ice— 
and back again. 

Framed quad-line kites also work 
well. For example, the Revolution ($100 
to $300), the first popular four-liner, 
gives you precise control over flying. Ac- 

"Whatever it is, Jonathan, that's what can happen from 
excessive seif-abuse." 

tualiy, almost any dual-line kite can be 
rigged to fly on four lines. Even with 
just its original two lines, most stunt 
kites can give you a great ride. For 
years, the Flexifoil ($100 to $400) was 
the favored power source, and it's still 
used and preferred by a good many 
fans. Note that all but the soft kites can 
be stacked, or strung together like 
cars in a train, to increase power in 
light winds. 

For accessories, you'll need a vari- 
ety of items. Safety equipment includes 
a helmet — absolutely recommended — 
and a windsurfer's body harness with 
a hook that takes the strain off your 
arms and lets you release the kite quick- 
ly in a dicey situation. Knee and elbow 
pads are also a good idea for most 
forms of kite propulsion. Flying line 
should be 40 lengths (more or less ac- 
cording to the wind) of the ultrahigh- 
strength polyethylene fiber sold under 
the trade name Spectra. It's stronger 
even than Kevlar but more prone to 
line cuts. Choose a strength, in 
pounds test, that's twice your weight. 
For about $50, you can get line 
prestretched and ready to fly, with han- 
dles extra ($12 to $20). Care and han- 
dling of lines is important and deserves 
patience and study. 

To acquire the skills, most people get 
used to flying kites first, then pick up 
skiing, skating, or buggying skills sec- 
ond. To learn stunt flying, Sedgwick 
says, practice in steps and stages, pref- 
erably in winds from 10 to 15 miles per 
hour. 'The steadier the wind, the more 
success you'll have." Start by flying to 
the right or left of the "power zone" (the 
center of the wind), but avoid going to 
the extreme edges of the "wind win- 
dow" (the entire downwind area in 
which the kite will fly). Learn to balance 
your body weight against the pull of the 
kite and to move the kite to achieve the 
speed and direction you want. 

Sedgwick and Taft recommend that 
you wear a tape player and listen to mu- 
sic while you fly. Skeptical? Just try it. 
Many fliers say music's moods and 
rhythms give you the feeling of danc- 
ing with your kite. 

Sedgwick, always the optimist, calls 
kite propulsion "the sport of the Nine- 
ties and beyond. Every time you learn 
something new, it leads to something 
else, and that leads to something else. 

The word on kite power is out, say 
Sedgwick and Taft, and the sport of 
kite propulsion fs taking off. At the last 
Valentine's Day Kite-Powered Ski and 
Sled Fun Fly, 50 kitefliers showed up. 
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entine's Fly was held in 1994. DO 

A Wheel 


wonderful pictures. But that's not what 
I'm after. I don't want to do photo- 
graphs — I want to be sure to remem- 
ber fried chicken and what violins look 
like." After hanging up, he thought over 
what she'd said about this man trying 
to pass off other people's poetry for his 
own. Other people's deepest-felt emo- 
tions. It was a clever way to trick a 
heart but what did it say about the man? 
Beizer turned a few facts here and 
there and saw himself showing some- 
one a famous picture he had not taken 
and saying, "This is one of my ten. 
This will comfort me when I can no long- 
er see." 

That night he woke up and padded 
slowly across the dark to the toilet. Re- 
lieving himself, he realized this was 
what it would be like when he was old. 
Getting up, probably nightly, to go to 
the bathroom because one's plumbing 
begins to weaken as we grow older. A 
familiar sound from when he went to vis- 
it his parents— the toilet next to their bed- 
room flushing in the wee hours of the 
morning. The wee hours. That made 
him smile. A good title for a poem. "Wee- 
ing in the Wee Hours." He should give 

it to the poem stealer. . . . Sleepily fin- 
ishing his business : Beizer once again 
had the feeling of some invisible con- 
nection here. Finding it would help him 
overcome the problem of the pictures 
he wanted to take. 

In bed again quickly slipping back in- 
to sleep, he thought poems are as per- 
sonal as fingerprints. Steal one and you 
instantly give your own identity, as if you 
were actually giving up the lines on 
your fingers or the features on you 

The features on his face! He started, 
sat up, very much awake. An old man 
peeing in the night. What would he, Nor- 
man Beizer, look like when he was sev- 
enty and holding his old cock in his 
hand? He'd never know. He couldn't 
look at someone else's pictures of 
that! Too soon he'd never know how the 
first deep lines on his face would 
change him, what white hair would do 
to his appearance. These are important 

He had begun to grow used to the 
idea of how much time would be wast- 
ed in his future. The seconds lost 
spent on useless fumbling for a wall 
switch or the string to pull a curtain 
across. To move a curtain was a much 
larger concern for the blind. First find 
the strings, figure out which is the cor- 

rect one, pull it. A matter of seconds for 
a person with sight, for the blind it 
would take three, four, five times unfair- 
ness of that, all the time he'd soon 
need to waste on what he did now with 
no trouble. But how much of Beizer 
would he lose when he could no long- 
er see him in the mirror. Watch the prog- 
ress of time and life across that most 
familiar geography? He sensed in time 
he would be able to accept the loss 
and forced limits that were coming, but 
until now he hadn't realized something 
so important— he would also lose 
large parts of himself. 

The next morning he called up the of- 
fices of Vogue magazine and Para- 
mount Pictures. After running the gam- 
ut of questioning secretaries, he was fi- 
nally put through to the proper people 
who, in both cases, were surprisingly 
kind and helpful. He asked the woman 
at the fashion magazine who she 
thought was the greatest portrait pho- 
tographer in the city. Without hesitation 
she said Jeremy Flynn and gave him 
the name of the photographer's agent. 
"At Paramount, the vice president in 
charge of something said the greatest 
makeup person in the world was so-and- 
so. Beizer carefully noted the names 
and addresses. He had expected 
more trouble finding these 'things out 

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but perhaps since he had figured out 
his problem, the solution slicked into 
place like the gears of a car engaging. 
He called the photographer and the ma- 
keup person and made appointments 
to see both of them. They charged an 
obscene amount of money, but the 
best were always worth it, particularly 
in this case. 

When he met them, he explained his 
situation with almost exactly the same 
words: He was fast going blind. Before 
that happened, he wanted to see what 
he would look like for the rest of his 
life. He was hiring them to help him get 
as close to that as possible. The vis- 
agist should make him up to look as con- 
vincingly sixty, seventy, eighty as possi- 
ble. Knowing his family history of bad 
hearts dying somewhere in their seven- 
ties, Beizer assumed his would, too. So 
his face at seventy would be close 
enough to his final days to satisfy. 

The photographer was fascinated by 
the idea. He recommended pictures 
done with no tricks — no special lighting 
or backgrounds. Just Beizer in a dark 
suit and a white shirt. That way, his 
face would take up the entire world. The 
eye would be forced to look at the 
face and nothing else. Yes! That was 
exactly what he wanted. 

At the end of their meeting, Flynn 

asked what good would the pictures be 
when Beizer could no longer see 
them. "Because I will have seen them. 
I'li be able to put them in front of some- 
one and say, 'Is that what I'm like now? 
Tell me the difference between what's 
on paper and what you see.'" 
"Points of reference." 
"Exactly! Points of reference." 
"Will you remember what's there? 
Even after years of not having seen?" 
'"I don't know. I have to try." 

The big day came and he had the 
astonishing experience of seeing him- 
self age forty years in one afternoon. 
Like time-lapse photography, he saw 
brand-new wrinkles groove his face, mak- 
ing it into something foreign and funni- 
ly familiar at the same time. He saw his 
hair disappear, his eyes' turn down, 
skin like bread dough hang from his 
chin and neck. If an experience can be 
funny and terrifying at the same time, 
this was it. Each time he was eager to 
see what the next decades would do 
to him, but when the makeup man 
said, "Okay have a look," Beizer was 
hesitant. He kept saying, "You think 
that's what I'll really look like?" But 
down deep he knew it was. 

So, this was it. Him for the next forty 
years. When he was a boy, he was a 
terrible sneak when it came to Christ- 

mas presents-. Every year he was driv- 
en to find where all of his gifts were hid- 
den, so that weeks before the big day, 
he knew exactly what he was getting. 
This was the same thing. Now he knew 
what he would be "getting" as the 
years passed. 

And one would think that seeing him- 
self across the rest of this life like that 
would have had some kind of large ef- 
fect on Beizer, taut the only real emo- 
tion he felt at the end of the session was 
amusement. When they were finished, 
he told the other two this and both 
said the same thing— wait till you see 
the pictures. In real life a person wear- 
ing makeup looks . . . like a person 
wearing makeup. Especially if it is 
thick and involved. But wait till Flynn's 
photographs were ready. Then he'd see 
a hell of a difference. Any great pho- 
tographer knows how to cheat light and 
time. Flynn loved the idea of showing 
this man the rest of his life in pictures. 
He planned to use these as the nucle- 
us of his next exhibition and thus 
would spend even more time than usu- 
al making them as perfect as he could. 

The call came very late at night. Beiz- 
er had been watching television and eat- 
ing a plum. He didn't know what he en- 
joyed more— looking at the TV or the fat 
purple plum with the guts of a sunrise. 

"Norman? This is Jeremy Flynn. Am I dis- 
turbing you?" 

"Not at ail. Have you finished the pic- 
tures?' 1 

Fiynn's voice was slow in coming and 
when it came, it sounded like he was 
testing every word before he let it walk 
across his tongue. "Well yes, yes I just 
tonight started to work on them. But 
there's a . . . well, I don't know how to 
put it. This is a crazy question because 
I know it's really late, but do you think 
you could come over here now?" 

"At eleven at night? I really want to 
see them, Jeremy, but can't we do it 

"Yes we can. Of course we can, but 
Norman, I think you'll want to see them 
now. I think you'll want to see them very 
much now." 

Fiynn's voice went up three notches 
to semihysterical. The other day in his 
studio he had been very calm and 
good natured. "Norman, can you 
please come? I'll pay for your taxi. 
Just, please." 

Concerned, Beizer put his plum 
down and nodded at the phone. "Okay, 
Jeremy, I'll come." 

Flynn was standing in the doorway of 
his house when Beizer arrived. He 
looked bad. He looked at the other like 
he'd arrived in the nick of time. 

"Thank God you're here. Come in. 
Come in." 

The moment they stepped into the 
house and he'd slammed the door be- 
hind them, Flynn started talking. "I was 
going to work on them the whole night, 
you see? I was going to give the whole 
night over to seeing what we'd done the 
other day. So I set everything up and 
did the first roll. Do you know anything 
about developing film?" He had Beizer 
by the arm and was leading him quick- 
ly through the house. 

"No, but I'd like to learn. I don't think 
I told you, but this whole thing started 
when — " 

"It doesn't matter. Listen to this. I did 
the developing. I always do my own. 
And then I — here we are, in here. Then 
I got down to the first prints. Do you 
want to sit down?" 

Flynn was acting and speaking so 

strangely, so rushed and strangled, 

like he'd swallowed air and was trying 

to bring it back up again. 

"No, Jeremy, I'm fine," 

"Okay. So I put the first ones down, 

all ready to see you, you know, looking 

fifty or sixty? I had all these great ideas 

of how to work with the paper to get 

this special effect I've been thinking 

about — but when I saw what was on the 

film, the film I took of you, I panicked." 

Beizer thought he was joking, but al- 

so knew instinctively that he wasn't be- 
cause of the scared seriousness of 
Fiynn's voice. "What do you mean you 
panicked? Did 1 look so ugly?" 

"No, Norman, you didn't look like any- 
thing at all. You weren't in the pictures." 

"What do you mean?" 

"Look for yourself." Flynn opened a 
very large manila envelope and slowly 
slid out a glossy photograph. It was of 
a large wheel stuck in the sand of a de- 
sert landscape. 

"That's nice. What is it?" 

"It's you, Norman. Look at this one." 
Flynn slid out another photograph. A 
half-eerie, half-romantic picture of moon- 
light slanting across an empty set of 
swings on a playground. Beizer tried to 
speak but the photographer wouldn't let 
him. He took out another picture, then 
another and another. All of them differ- 
ent, some strange : some beautiful, 
some nothing special. 

When he was finished, he put his 
hands on his hips and looked at his sub- 
ject suspiciously. "That is the roil of 
film i took of you, Norman. There was 
no mistake because I purposely left the 
film in the camera after I shot the other 
day. Those pictures are what the cam- 
era took of you. 

"I hate to tell you, Jeremy, but I'm not 
a wheel, or a swing." 

"I know that. I didn't ask you over 
here to play a joke on you. That's what 
i have, Norman. This is no joke. Those 
are the pictures I took of you the other 

"How am I supposed to respond to 

"i don't know." Flynn sat down, 
Then he stood up. "No, I do know. I 
have to say something else. I have to 
tell you, whether it helps or not. Maybe 
it'll even scare you. When I was young 
and learning to develop pictures, I 
took a whole roll one time of a girl I 
knew who I had a crush on. Kelly Col- 
lier. That same day I went into the dark- 
room to do them because I was so ea- 
ger to have them. While I was in there, 
she and her mother were killed in a car 
accident. Naturally I didn't know that, 
but none of the pictures came out with 
her image. They came out like these." 
"You mean swings and a wheel?" 
"No, but things like that. Objects. 
Things that had nothing to do with her. 
I've never told anyone the story, but Nor- 
man, this is exactly the same thing that 
happened with Kelly. Exactly. I took the 
pictures and she died. Then I took 
these pictures while you're going 
blind. There's got to be a connection." 
"You think it's your fault?" 
"No, I think ... I think sometimes the 
camera is able to catch things as 
they're about to happen, Or as they're 


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happening. Or . . ." Flynn licked his 
iips. "I don't know. It has something to 
do with change. Or something to do 
with — " 

Beizer tried to speak when he heard 
the other's confusion. Because he re- 
alized it did have to do with change. As 
he looked longer at the picture in front 
of him and listened to the other speak, 
he began to understand. What had hap- 
pened was Flynn's camera had photo- 
graphed their souls — the dead girl's 
and Beizer's — as they were going 
through ... as they lived different 
things. A soul was able to try on differ- 
ent existences as if they were clothes 
in a wardrobe. Of course a soul knows 
what's coming. Beizer believed the hu- 
man soul knew everything; naturally 
with the girl, it knew her body was 
about to die. And in his own case, it 
knew what it would be like blind. So 
even while living in them, their souls 
were going out looking, traveling, win- 
dow shopping for what they would be- 
come next. That was what the camera 
had somehow managed to capture. 
This plain metal and plastic, chemicals 
and glass had all worked together to 
catch two souls experimenting or play- 
ing, or whatever the word was for liv- 
ing a while in their future. Or was it 
their past? Maybe they'd like to rest in 
the moonlight and be swung on by day. 
Or maybe they were only reliving what 
it was like to be wheels, useless and 
thus marvelous out in a desert. 

How did he know this? How could a 
plain, nice, dull man like Norman Beiz- 
er realize something so secret and pro- 
found? Because as Flynn spoke, Beiz- 
er began to recognize the photographs 
laid in front of him. Whatever part of him 
had been there in them suddenly and 
distinctly remembered being cold met- 
al out in the moonlight, or the heat of 
sand all around him. He recognized 
and remembered the feelings, temper- 
atures, sounds . . . that were in each 
of the pictures. 

What was even better, he knew that 
that was what he would remember 
when he went blind. It would be 
enough, more than enough, for the 
rest of one life. He didn't need a cam- 
era, or ten unforgettable pictures, or por- 
traits of himself as an old man. With 
this new understanding, he would 
have the ongoing knowledge and mem- 
ories of where his soul had been. Until 
he died, blind or not, he would share 
the feelings and adventures of the part 
of him that was universal and curious. 
The part that was traveling, experienc- 
ing, knowing hotel lives of things. 
Things like wheels, like swings. One 
more bustling soul out there looking for 
what to do next. DO 



it was no big deal to me then. Only af- 
ter we started making measurements 
did I see it as a problem. We got down 
to measuring a part in 2,000 and still 
weren't seeing anything. The universe 
looked perfectly smooth. 
Omni: If the universe proved to have no 
irregularities, then you can't use gravi- 
ty to explain its structure? 
Smoot: Right. And there was no other 
good explanation for galaxy formation, 
so cosmologists were in a tight spot. 
But in 1973, we didn't even know how 
much trouble we were in. I was just think- 
ing about how to measure the radiation 
to detect the universe's rotation. One per- 
son was already trying to do this from 
a mountain top, and another group was 
attempting it from balloons. I wanted to 
try it with airplanes. NASA had flown U- 
2s for Earth resources, photographing 
crops and the coast of California to 
make sure it was protected. I talked 
about it, and Luis Alvarez and the oth- 
ers in my group got excited, so we 
went ahead with the U-2. But all the 
hatches on the U-2 were bottom hatch- 
es; this was, after all, a spy plane, de- 
signed to look down. After many deal- 
ings, Lockheed finally configured an up- 
per hatch that let us look out into space. 
Omni: Instead of finding rotation of the 
universe, you discovered the motion of 
the galaxy. 

Smoot: We found a pattern in the back- 
ground radiation — a dipole — that 
showed the Milky Way was moving 
through the radiation. We calculated the 
speed of the galaxy at 600 kilometers 
per second. We took the plane to Peru 
to repeat the work in the Southern Hemi- 
sphere, to show the effect was not just 
some local anomaly. It was pretty 
clear the universe was lumpy. 

There had to be an enormous mass 
capable of pulling our galaxy around at 
such high speeds. Our galaxy is a 
huge, tenuous thing, and if you try to 
accelerate it by just grabbing hold at 
one end, it will come apart. You have 
to pull all of it together and with almost 
the same force or else it will stretch 
apart. For a cluster of galaxies, like our 
local group of 14, you need a much big- 
ger mass, still farther away, to pull 
them together. After the U-2 results, 
around 1979, I realized that these 
huge masses must exist out there and 
that we had to look for them. I figured 
we'd find the variations in the back- 
ground radiation, and find them soon. 
Omni: Yet it was ten years before the 
COBE satellite was ready for liftoff. 
After the space shuttle Challenger dis- 

aster, it had to be redesigned to ride 
on a rocket instead of the shuttle. How 
did you feel on that morning in 1989? 
Smoot: Some nervousness; it was the 
moment of truth! Alpher and Herman, 
two of the guys who predicted the cos- 
mic background radiation, wereatVan- 
denberg Air Force Base. The sun was 
barely starting to come up as we 
faced the Pacific Ocean. I could see 
our shadows falling forward, toward the 
launch pad. When the motors turned on 
and the rocket started to lift, our shad- 
ows were suddenly thrown behind us. 
I remember how quickly the rocket 
seemed to turn and go away behind me. 
All of a sudden, the Dela rocket's 1 -in-30 
failure rate seemed awfully high. 

As the spacecraft flew over the 
South Pole one hour after takeoff, the 
reflected sunlight produced extra pow- 
er to burn. So the DMFi [Differential Mi- 
crowave Radiometer] turned on. Then 
we knew it had survived the launch. In 
January 1990, two months after the 
launch, the satellite measured the full 
spectrum of the background radiation, 
showing that it matched the Big Bang 
theory's prediction precisely. 
Omni: Your own work on COBE in- 
volved measurements of minuscule dif- 
ferences in the radiation's temperature. 
Smoot: That's why the experiment 
took so long and was so hard. We're talk- 
ing about differences of one part in 
100,000 — or smaller. It's like measuring 
the distance between New York and San 
Francisco to within one foot. That may 
seem like a simple matter of calibrating 
your car's odometer and driving across 
the country. But you've got to take into 
account the fact that roads aren't 
straight. What happens when you pull 
off for gas? If it's a warm day and your 
tires expand? That changes measure- 
ments—- perhaps 50 feet in a mile. 

We showed that space is ten times 
as homogeneous as we thought, that it 
is uniform to one part in 100,000. No 
manmade thing, not even a billiard 
ball, is anywhere near that smooth. The 
universe turned out to be smoother 
than ever. But the big news is — it's got 
tiny wrinkles. All people can talk 
about, in fact, are the imperfections. It's 
like looking at a beauty queen and fo- 
cusing on the tiny mole over her left eye 
or on her one gray hair. 
Omni: How did you feel when you re- 
alized what you had found? 
Smoot: We didn't see it right away, The 
first thing that became clear was the 
quadrupole pattern, which didn't arise 
from our motion in space— like the di- 
pole we'd seen with the U-2 — but from 
the cosmos itself. Ihstead of announc- 
ing that finding right away, I said, 
"We've got to check it over." In that 

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year of checking, we saw that not only 
was there the quadrupole, which is 
like the second harmonic of the dipole, 
but there were other irregularities — 
octupole and hexadecupole — represent- 
ing the third and fourth harmonic. We 
found a whole spectrum of irregularities 
of all different sizes. We'd uncovered a 
whole bunch of puzzle pieces at once. 
It was comparable to finding that the 
DNA strand was a double helix. 1 remem- 
ber sitting here, looking at the curve [on 
the graph of data points], and saying, 
"Aha! Aha!" I was pretty sure but want- 
ed it checked. Your credibility is very 
important. I'd anticipated that once we 
made the announcement, we'd be in for 
three or four years of controversy. 
Omni: Instead, you've found agreement 
and confirmation. 

Smoot: Well, so far. And the second 
year looks much like the first. So the on- 
ly thing we have to worry about is, are 
the data in agreement from one year to 
the next because something is wrong 
with our software? I have a lot invest- 
ed in it now. If I'm wrong, I'll have a dif- 
ficult time living it down. 
Omni: Haven't you already received con- 
firmation from an MIT experiment with 
balloon equipment? 
Smoot: Some. While not quite as sen- 
sitive as the COBE DMR maps that cov- 
er the whole sky, that experiment's re- 
sults covering a quarter of the sky cor- 
relate weil with ours. A primarily Spanish- 
British experiment in the Canary Islands 
is also scanning strips across the sky 
with three telescopes specially de- 
signed to look at three frequencies so 
they can fine-measure. And we're hop- 
ing for more follow-ups. The analogy is: 
Columbus discovers America, or at 
least shows the world there's a conti- 
nent there. Then Magellan comes over 
and finds that there are really several 
continents. Now map in more detail — 
trace out what Florida looks like. Our 
original COBE map is on a mammoth 
scale. The smallest spots are objects 
the size of the Great Wall and the giant 
void in Bootes. We'd like to get down 
to the supercluster or cluster size. 
Omni: What might smaller-scale meas- 
urements reveal? 

Smoot: More about how structure 
formed in the early universe. We now 
have the outline, and I hope we'll go on 
to some kind of astronomy — seeing how 
the individual fluctuations grow, first on 
different scales because that would 
give us different snapshots of the early 
universe. Once particular structures are 
targeted, maybe we can trace some ex- 
amples through time — see them in 
more than one phase so we can follow 
their evolution. 
Omni: How often do you put the accu- 

mulating data into the model? 
Smoot: We make the map in pieces, 
and we're merging the six-months 
maps for the first two years. About four 
years from the beginning of its mission, 
COBE will have lived its expected life. 
The rest would be insurance, essential- 
ly. I don't know, but after eight years of 
data, I would tend to be bored. 
Omni: You're ready for the next thing? 
Smoot: Yes. We want to go back to the 
South Pole, where we measured the low- 
frequency spectrum in 1989 and 1991, 
and make a series of observations of 
the spectrum toward the longer wave- 
lengths. We made better maps of ga- 
lactic emissions at long wavelengths 
then, but we need new data to calibrate 
those maps. To make maps with more 
sensitivity, or at different angular 
scales, you want to measure galactic 
emissions more accurately — not only so 
you can understand it better, but also 
to subtract it away, to see the extraga- 
lactic stuff. We built this huge portable 
radio telescope dish and want to take 
it to the South Pole or some cold dry 
place where we can scan the southern 
sky. It's the least well mapped. 
Omni: What other pursuits will you fol- 
low beyond COBE? 
Smoot: I like to push the envelope; I'm 
thinking about gravity waves. I think in- 
flation is the right model of the early uni- 
verse. And inflation could certainly 
make gravity waves, so there's a well- 
defined relationship between density per- 
turbations and gravity waves. Measur- 
ing both of them, you can test if infla- 
tion is the right concept. 
Omni: How widely accepted is the 
inflationary model? 

Smoot: Probably 10 or 20 percent of 
people in cosmology don't believe in it. 
They propose topological defects, 
phase transitions, or other things as the 
seeds of the structure. Conceivably, 
some of their theories could still be 
right. Things fit too well, and sometimes 
I worry about getting to love inflation too 
much so that it stands in my way of 
detecting something else, i think — I 
hope — I'm mature enough to be able to 
step back and look at the data without 
too much preconception. 

But when I saw that curve back in Feb- 
ruary 1992, I said, : '3oy, inflation is 
right." I didn't have so much vested in- 
terest in inflation until that moment. I 
tried to keep all the theory out of the pa- 
per announcing the discovery. Ail 
these theories, including cold dark mat- 
ter, might be dead in ten years while the 
data should still be right. But I couldn't 
resist putting in a paragraph about how 
the fluctuations fitted with inflation. So 
I didn't succeed entirely. 
Omni: Where's the line between accept- 

ed theory and speculation? 
Smoot: The Big Bang is standing on 
firm footing, inflation on much less firm 
footing. But it's reasonable to tell peo- 
ple about it, because it's a beautiful 
idea and stretches your mind. It's also 
likely to be right. Now dark matter is on 
more tenuous ground. Detecting it will 
revolutionize particle physics and tell us 
how to change the standard model, 
which now has many loose ends. Stand- 
ard models exist in both particle phys- 
ics and cosmology. In fact, the inflation- 
ary Big Bang is the standard model in 
cosmology. I suspect dark matter will 
be a key interlocking puzzle piece, 
but we won't know what that is until we 
find it. 

Omni: We often hear the word ele- 
gance in describing a powerful idea or 
theory. What does it mean to you? 
Smoot: A theory can be elegant in one 
of two ways: It can tie diverse ideas to- 
gether in a neat way, or it can appear 
just plain beautiful in its formulation. Peo- 
ple like general reiativity because its 
equations are equivalent to poetry in 
math. The written equations have beau- 
tiful lines to them, like haiku. The ele- 
gance comes in the simplicity and in- 
ternal rhyme. 

Omni: Does the universe have some- 
thing like free will? Or did it have to 
advance to this stage in this way? 
Smoot: It could have gone many differ- 
ent ways. Like a human life— do you 
have to end up a certain way? No, you 
have many accidental branches and 
choices along the way. However, after 
you're born and get bigger, you learn 
a lot, end up coping with the world, and 
presumably gain perspective and ma- 
turity as you go along, and then finally 
die. Do people have any choice in 
that? They have a lot of choices, but the 
envelope is prescribed. I'd guess the 
universe also has a lot of choices, ac- 
cidental things along the way, but the 
overall envelope is prescribed. 

The logical extension of this is, 'If the 
universe develops from a simple state, 
then forms all these stars, galaxies, 
what have you, and keeps getting 
more complex, how likely is it that in- 
telligent beings exist on other planets?" 
Well, it's extremely likely— because 
of inflation. Even if the probability is ex- 
traordinarily small, the universe proba- 
bly contains many more than the few bil- 
lion galaxies we can see. You could say 
we live in a special place, and the uni- 
verse ends just past our horizon. 
There's no way to prove or disprove 
that idea. But if we don't live in a spe- 
cial place, then the scale of the uni- 
verse is probably a hundred to a mil- 
lion times bigger than what we can see. 
That's my viewpoint. DO 

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And smiley faces that say much more than, "Have a nice day" 

By Scot Morris 

Scott Kim has created a 
series of puzzles and 
challenges for the computer 
game Heaven & Earth, 
published by Buena Vista 
Software. Most of his games 
can only be played on a 
computer—mazes, for ex- 
ample, that change their 
configurations as you work 
your way through them. But 
one of his ideas also works, 
with paper and pencil; it's 
called an Antimaze, and a 
sample designed especially 
for Omni is shown above. 

In an antimaze, the rules 
are reversed: You can 
go through walls but not 
through empty space. You 
can only move perpendicu- 
larly through a wall segment, 
one square at a time. In 
this sample, the object is to 
trace a path from the red 
square to the blue circle. 
We've shown one possible 
starting path that leads 
to a dead end. The actual 

96 OMNI 

solution is much longer. 
We'll print it in a future issue. 


People who use E-mail and 
converse on computer 
screens have developed a 
host of symbols to convey 
the emotions behind their 
words, usually little faces 
that become visible when 
you cock your head to 
the left (or turn this page 90 
degrees to the right). For 
example, :-) is a smiling face 
and :-( is a pout. 

Originally called "emoti- 
cons," these faces are now 
simply called smileys. 
Try your hand at the smiley 
quizzes below. 

A. Match each smiley at left 
with its identity. B. Match 
each smiley at right with the 
appropriate quote. Answers 

2. CI:-=) !-( 


+-(:-) ,>) 

f. 'Tm innocent!" 


==:-D .-( 

g. "I love to smoke." 


oCc:-) :-& 

h. "I'm tongue-tied." 


:-)x }:-l 

i, "Like my toupee?" 


:-)B 0:-) 

j. "Play ball!" 


:-.) ;-Q 

Now that you've seen our 


:-[ (-: 

favorite smileys, send us 


(8)-) d:-) 

your best original smiley on 

a postcard. You may 

The identities (A): 

enter more than once, but 

A. Charlie Chaplin 

each entry must be sent 

B. Jacques Cousteau 

separately. All entries be- 

C. Cindy Crawford 

come the property of Omni 

D. Dracula 

and cannot be returned. 

E. Don King 

The grand-prize winner will 

F. Carmen Miranda 

receive $100, and four 

G. Dolly Parton 

runners-up will each get 

H. The Pope 

$25. Send entries, post- 

I. Senator Paul Simon 

marked by April 1, 1994, to: 

J. Uncle Sam 

Omni Competition #56, 

324 W. Wendover Avenue, 

The quotes (B): 

Suite 205, Greensboro, 

a. "Always wear safety 


North Carolina 27408. DO 

b. "Boo hoo!" 


c. "I have a black eye." 

(A) U, 2A, 3H, 4E, 5F, 61, 

d. "I accidentally shaved an 

7G, 8C, 9D, 10B 

eyebrow off." 

(B) 1b, 2c, 3d, 4a, 5h, 6i, 7f, 


Tm from Australia." 

8g, 9e, 10] 



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